02 March 2015

Teach the Faith and Vocations Will Bloom

Bishop Morlino of Madison, WI is doing something right!

There are now 33 seminarians, or priests-in-training, up from six in 2003 when Bishop Robert Morlino arrived.

[. . .]

Why the local success? Morlino has made priestly vocations — the spiritual call to serve — a priority. He increased the position of director of vocations to full time, and he routinely promotes the priesthood at functions.

[. . .]

Bishops who are unambiguous about church doctrine and don’t tolerate dissent [that's lefty mediaspeak for "teaching the faith"] tend to inspire the greatest number of vocations, said Hendershott, who references Morlino positively in her book.

Read the whole thing.

P.S. Comments on this article from a few local Catholics tell you all you need to know about the spiritual state of the Madison diocese. Sad. Pray for Bishop Morlino and his seminarians.

P.P.S. Note that Jim Green, quoted in the article whining about the money spent on formation, is not a Catholic. He belongs to something called the "Holy Wisdom Monastery." Apparently, he's the Go To Guy when the local lefty media need someone to say something nasty about the Church.

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01 March 2015

Practicing the fine art of being victors in Christ

2nd Sunday of Lent (2015)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic/OLR, NOLA

Two mountains: Mt. Moriah and Mt. Tabor. Two fathers: Abraham and God the Father. Two only sons: Isaac and Jesus. And two stories of sacrificial obedience and the glory that obedience brings. Abraham's almost-sacrifice of his son Isaac foreshadows the Father's coming-sacrifice of his Son, Jesus. Because Abraham obeys the Lord on Mt Moriah, God showers him with blessings, promising him “descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.” Jesus brings three of his disciples to Mt. Tabor and shows them who he will be after his sacrificial death on the cross and his resurrection. Abraham listened to God; he obeyed. Jesus is transfigured and the Father's voice calls out, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” When we obey – listen to – the Lord, we too are showered with blessings and transfigured, abundantly gifted and made new in Christ. If we will survive these forty days in the desert and arrive with Jesus in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, then we will listen to him and claim as our own his victory over sin and death.

How do we survive the forty desert days? For that matter, how do we survive until Christ returns? Paul writes to the Romans with part of the answer, “If God is for us, who can be against us?. . .Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?” Every year with begin Lent with the story of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. We know that Jesus cannot be truly tempted b/c everything Satan tempts him with already belongs to him. Jesus participates in this little desert side-show with the devil to show us that the fight against temptation is not a fight to be won. It is a fight already won. By him. For us. Paul grasps this truth when he writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?. . .Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?” Temptation is a test, a trial. We are the accused. The devil is the prosecuting attorney. Sounds bad until we remember that Christ is our defense attorney; and he's also the judge and jury. Temptation is never a fair trial – for the devil. We are acquitted by God before the trial even opens. How do we survive these 40 days and all the days until Christ returns? We listen to our defense attorney and give the devil no evidence against us! 
The first truth that Christ needs us to hear is that the trial against us is rigged – in our favor. There is nothing and no one for us to fight when Satan comes around with his accusations and lies. As children as God, we are already acquitted of all charges. The second truth that Christ needs us to hear is that if we believe in and live in that first truth – that we are already, always free – we will be changed, transformed as he himself is transfigured on Mt Tabor. Christ's transfiguration is a promise like the Father's promise to Abraham. Listen to me and the blessings will flow. We could think of these blessings are rewards for being good boys and girls, but there is a better way of understanding this truth: when we choose to align our wills with God's will for us, we see the obstacles to our freedom for what they really are – lies and illusions. Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If we are with God, what lie or illusion has the power to lure us away? None! No lie or illusion has the power to lure us anywhere. . .unless we empower the lie with our sin. Lent is that time of year when we practice hardest at not giving life to the devil's lies and illusions, the temptations that bait us and attempt to lure us away from the verdict Christ has already reached and announced.

All this sounds wonderful in theory, right? How to put it into practice? First, you have recognize a temptation when you see one and treat it for what it is. Temptations are trials. Think of yourself as The Accused. You've been charged with a serious sin. If you actually committed the sin, then you throw yourself on the mercy of the judge – Christ – and receive his forgiveness through sacramental absolution. If the Accuser is truly testing you, dangling a sin before you to see if you will bite, remember: you are free in Christ Jesus! Tell the Accuser: “Christ the Just Judge has already acquitted me. You have no power to test me.” Never give the Accuser the power to test you. Recall Christ's transfiguring promise on Mt Tabor. That is your goal, your end. That's where we will all end up if we believe in and live in the transfiguring promise of Christ. And there is nothing – literally, nothing – the Accuser can do to prevent the fulfillment of that promise if we do not give him the power to do so. Be careful: “Fighting the Devil” is dangerous b/c it tempts us to imagine ourselves as mighty warriors fighting against a great evil. That's the Accuser testing us with Pride. There is no battle to fight. Christ won. Christ is winning. Christ will always win. On the Cross and through the Empty Tomb. As his brothers and sisters through baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are heirs to his victory.
So, spend your Lenten days practicing the fine art of being heirs to his victory!


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25 February 2015

Renewal within Tradition

For all those interested in the documents of Vatican Two and how to read them within the hermeneutic of continuity described by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition, M. Lamb and M. Levering.

Indispensable for clergy, seminarians, and catechists!

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24 February 2015

OP Seminarians in need

Our Student Brothers (i.e., seminarians) in St Louis need to eat. They need books and heat and the occasional shower. . .give us money! (Please)


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Notre Dame Seminary on Issues & Faith

Notre Dame Seminary was recently featured on Issues and Faith! Check it out. . .

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20 February 2015

B.O. tries to force Catholic refugee agencies into mortal sin. . .again.

B.O.'s once again trying to force Catholics to commit mortal sin. . .

NEW YORK, February 20 (C-Fam) The Obama administration is getting ready to issue new rules requiring charities to provide abortions to child refugees entering the US without their parents. Faith-based groups say this is a contravention of the rights of parents and a violation of the conscience rights of faith-based groups helping resettle the children.


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19 February 2015

One: "figura transit in veritatem: Jesus' radical novum

Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Day of Recollection, Kenrick Seminary
St. Louis, MO
April 24, 2008

I. from figura to veritatem through the cross

On the cross, as he breathes his last, our Lord says, “…it is finished.” He dies. And it is finished. We should wonder though, what is finished? It is clear from the events that follows his death that what the Lord came to do is not finished. And it should be ever more starkly clear that the work he has given us to do is unfinished. Though we have work left undone, we are not left undone by the work remaining. In fact, what is finished on the cross is precisely that relationship between God and His creatures that makes what we have left to do here not only possible but complete; that is, the work of evangelization, of preaching and teaching the Word is made possible for us because Christ himself has already finished the job. This leaves for us then the work of catching up, of “living through to” what Christ has already accomplished on the Cross and out of the Empty Tomb. If this is true, then can we say that as preachers and teachers of the Word, we ourselves are “figures transforming into truth”? Pope Benedict XVI teaches in his apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis, that the radical novum of Jesus, initiated by our Blessed Mother’s fiat and finished on the Cross, is the transformation of the figura of the Passover meal into the veritatem of the Eucharist. For your reflection today, let me put it to you that there is a parallel between this transformation and the transformation of the human person from being a figura of Christ among us to being the veritatem of Christ for us—from the mere foreshadowing of who is to come to he who is with us and for us.

Our Holy Father, writes in his apostolic exhortation, “The mission for which Jesus came among us was accomplished [finished] in the Paschal Mystery. On the Cross from which he draws all people to himself, just before ‘giving up the Spirit,’ he utters the words: ‘it is finished.’ In the mystery of Christ's obedience unto death, even death on a Cross, the new and eternal covenant was brought about”(SC 9). In one act of surrender, Christ accomplishes two, apparently contradictory tasks: he ends his public ministry by dying publicly and by dying he makes the continuation of his ministry possible. His “obedience to death” on the Cross is the act that moves his ministry out of history, into the eternal with the Father, and back into history through his Spirit and with the Church. With the divine breath of Pentecost, the apostles and disciples are shaped into the Church, charged with setting the world on fire with the Word, and sent out to free all of creation from the slavery to sin. Our Holy Father writes, “In [Christ’s] crucified flesh, God’s freedom and our human freedom met definitively in an inviolable, eternally valid pact.” We can conclude from this that the transformation of the human person from the figura of Christ to the vertitatem of Christ for others is the transformation of that person in perfect freedom. Each of us then is a project of the Lamb, each of us an object of his mission, a focal point for the “taking away of sins.” And, since we are happy to be called to his supper, we eat and drink and take our fill before moving out, eagerly setting out again, into the world, to not only preach and teach the Word, to tell others about Christ, but to be Christ for others, to practice the fine art of being the Lamb, of being the sacrifice, of being the sacramental sign that points to and makes possible the transfiguration of the world.

II. from ritual commemoration to definitive liberation

With his dying breath on the cross, Christ pronounced, for the ears of history to hear, his signature, his seal on the last covenant between Creator and creature: “It is finished.” As Benedict notes in his exhortation, the covenant meal that foreshadows the Eucharist is the Passover meal. He writes: “This ritual meal, which called for the sacrifice of lambs, was a remembrance of the past, but at the same time a prophetic remembrance of a deliverance yet to come. The people had come to realize that their earlier liberation was not definitive, for their history continued to be marked by slavery and sin” (SC 10). The insufficiency of animal sacrifice to fulfill the prophetic promise of the Passover marks for the people of God an incomplete revelation of their salvation history; that is, though the Passover meal is more than sufficient to mark the past, to celebrate the theophanies of God in Egypt and in the desert, no amount of animal sacrifice could bring them to the “deliverance yet to come.” Merely remembering the past fails to enlighten the present in a way that transforms the future. More is needed; therefore, our Holy Father writes: “The remembrance of their ancient liberation [was] expanded to the invocation and expectation of a yet more profound, radical, universal and definitive salvation”(SC 10).

Embodying this “invocation and expectation,” Christ with his last words on the cross, his spirit commended and released to the Father, introduces a radical gift into the salvation history of God’s people. At the Last Supper, Jesus transforms the Passover meal into the Eucharist. Benedict writes: “In the prayer of praise, the Berakah, [Jesus] does not simply thank the Father for the great events of past history, but also for his own ‘exhalation.’ In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection”(SC 10). Sitting at table and eating with his friends, Jesus takes the familiar meal of his people and makes it into something else entirely. He reveals himself to be the sacrificial lamb, the one who will take away the sins of the world. This is the beginning of the promise, just the start of a new and final covenant that will seal the salvific history of all humanity and deliver us whole and secure into the hands of the Father. We will no longer merely remember God’s mighty deeds nor will we wait in anticipation of His mighty deeds. We are now and will always be God’s mighty deeds; we are divine acts set loose to do what Christ did: “…whoever believes in me will do the works that I do AND will do greater ones than these (John 14.12). That this is possible at all is a gift.

III. from gift to giving

What exactly is Christ’s gift to us? Quickly, we might say “salvation” or “God’s love” or “forgiveness.” We could say that he donates himself as our connection between memory and What Is To Come. He forms the bridge between God and Man. Christ, as fully divine and fully human, unites Creator and creature in a relationship that binds for eternity. All true. But all of these are the result of his gift, happy products of his donation and our reception of his donation. What is donated?

Remembering again by looking back to God’s rescue of the Jews from Egyptian slavery, we can see a “figure” of what is to come for us all—Jew and Gentile alike. We can anticipate our delivery from the slavery to sin. We do this as a Church who embodies in her liturgy that very rescue: the liturgical year compresses our salvation history into a series of public works that mark in time the progress of our trek from chains to freedom. Even more profound, the Church takes this liturgical year and concentrates this series of public works into one work of praise and thanksgiving: the Eucharist. While we look a little closer at the liturgy, let’s not lose sight of the fundamental question: what is it that Christ donates on the cross?

We can say that the Church’s liturgy (especially the Eucharist) is more than an opportunity to teach Christian morality, more than a moment of spiritual refreshment, and more than exhortation to be socially just. Our public work as the Church is the Christian life concentrated, highly focused, and distilled into a moment of intense clarity, an instant where God meets the human need for transformation. In our liturgies, as the Body of Christ, we perform acts of sacrifice, acts of sanctification by assenting to, surrendering to the salvific history that Christ embodies; in other words, the Church’s liturgy (again, most especially the Eucharist) is that moment and that place where the human person meets his/her final end: the transfiguration of the merely human into the perfectly human through Christ. 

We are not simply reorienting the Christian moral life toward “being good” behaviorally. Nor are we simply restoring a broken down but salvageable spiritual life. If we take seriously the prayer of the Church’s liturgy, we cannot help but come away from its celebration stunned by what we have experienced and overwhelmed by what we have committed ourselves to: the satisfaction of an ecstatic desire for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, a desire to be Truth, Goodness and Beauty in the world and for the world. Benedict writes: “The institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus’ death, for all its violence and absurdity, become in him a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil”(SC 10). Yes, we are delivered from evil and death to goodness and life, but even more: Jesus’ supreme act of love, his kenosis on the Cross, makes us Christ.

Traditionally called “theosis” or “divinization,” our being made into Christ is the graced process whereby the believer is transformed into He Who Is Believed. The imperfect creature who loves imperfectly is perfected by the perfect Creator who is Love. And there is only one way to accomplish this act of divine mercy: the giver of all good gifts must make of Himself a good gift and give Himself freely to us. Christ’s death on the Cross is a sacrifice, made present in the Eucharist, carried forward into the world by those who receive him as gift in communion; but that sacrifice on the cross is an act of vanity unless it is God who dies there, God who is donated, given up.

IV. Now what?

I said earlier that there is a parallel between Jesus’ transformation of the Passover meal into the Eucharist and the transformation of the human person from the figura of Christ among us to the veritatem of Christ for us. Just as Christ’s death on the cross is foreshadowed in the Passover meal, so his death is presented again in the Eucharistic sacrifice. The moment that binds the two, that moves his death for us from figure to truth, from foreshadow to fact is completed on the cross, Jesus breathes his last, “It is finished.” It is now possible for us to become Christ; it is possible for us—each of us—to move from being a figure of Christ, an outline of Christ, to being Christ in truth. And though we may think that this is an occasion of joy—and it is—it is most fundamentally a somber occasion as we take in all that this move means for us. Having been “fleshed out” as Christ for others in the sacrifice of the Mass, we are now flesh and blood and bone for the world; our hearts and minds and spirits sacrificed—literally, made holy in surrender—by our repeated “amens” and our bold communion. With every “amen,” and most especially in the eating of his Body and the drinking of his Blood, you become a little less your own, a little more His, and every bit ours. Remember: the celebration of the Mass is not about strength for moral fortitude or righteous energy for social justice or even a chance to be truly pious. The Mass brings into the presence of the divine so that we might see our end, taste what is coming for us, and clearly see that the road from here to there is paved with the works Christ has left undone for us for finish. The Mass is not about the Church. It is the Church. The Mass is not about Christ. It is Christ. The Mass is not about our salvation. It is our salvation. We are not waiting on the coming of the Lord. He is here. We are not remembering our liberation. We are free. We are not gambling on a future in heaven. We have something far better than the odds: we have hope, the guarantee that our Father keeps His promises.

For your reflection: what do you need to do to move from being a figura of Christ to being Christ in veritatem? In other words, what do you need to do to move from being ABOUT Christ to BEING Christ?

Question for Mass: what are you doing when you say “amen”? Rather than routinely mumble “amen” on cue, listen very carefully to what it is that you are saying “amen” to. Why? Because you are committing yourself—heart and soul—to that prayer.


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Two: "Penetrating the hearts of all things": Eucharist as Moral Fission

For your Lenten reflection. . .

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Day of Reflection, Kenrick Seminary
St Louis, MO
April 24, 2008

I. Pulled in, sent out

This morning I attempted to draw a parallel between the transformation of the Passover meal into the Eucharist and the individual Christian’s transformation from being a person “about Christ” to being Christ. Pope Benedict sees the latter transformation into terms of Jesus transfiguring the foreshadowing of the Passover (the figura) into the truth of the Eucharist (the veritatem). Our Holy Father goes on to note that this transfiguration occurs through the Cross, bringing the promise of the Passover meal into completion, fulfilling the prophetic history of God’s people, and changing our memory of liberation into our liberation in truth. Picking up his mediation on the Eucharist in Sacramentum caritatis, I want to offer for your reflection this afternoon the following question: having shown us our final end with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and having accepted this end with our repeated “amen’s” at prayer, what are the moral implications of celebrating the Eucharist; in other words, now that Mass is over and we have been sent out, what do we do and how? Our Holy Father, in the most striking passage I’ve ever read in a papal document, writes that we are to become graced agents of a cosmic moral transfiguration, “a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all”(SC 11). The catalyst and the fuel for this radical change is to be found in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

II. Renewing history & cosmos

At the precise moment that Jesus identifies himself as the lamb of sacrifice in the Passover meal, “[he] shows the salvific meaning of his death and resurrection, a mystery which renews history and the whole cosmos”(SC 10). It is very important to note here that this is not just the renewal of a single people or a single tribe or race, but the re-creation of the cosmos and the re-vision of our history as prophecy fulfilled. We must be very cautious about giving a stingy interpretation to the revelation Jesus makes here. It is tempting to see this revelation as a metaphor, or as a clever way of warning his friends about his fate. Metaphors and clever warnings cannot serve as the re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice, what our Holy Father describes as “a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil.” I’ve come across a lot of metaphors in my 22 years of teaching English. Never met one that delivered me from evil! Jesus means precisely what Jesus says here. He is the lamb. The sacrifice. And he is the priest and the altar. He is the giver and the gift. When we receive what he offers—himself—we are transformed into a giver and a gift. So, in our service to others, we are not simply “using our talents” or “exercising our graces.” We are, literally, sacrificing self—making the self holy by surrendering the self to service. Remember: we are not baptized to be “about Jesus” nor are we called to be a Body of those who are “about Christ.” It is our re-created nature now to be Christ per se. For this to happen, Christ had to die on the cross.

Now, by taking such a sharp focus on the saving act of the cross and then expanding our view to include the whole of creation, Pope Benedict is both pulling us in and sending us out, pulling us toward the cross and Christ, and sending us out toward the world with Christ. Between being pulled in and sent out there is a space for growth and development. Our Holy Father says about this space: “By [Christ’s] command to ‘do this in remembrance of me,’ he asks us to respond to his gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses…his expectation that the Church, born of sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament”(SC 11). And it is the liturgical form of the sacrament of remembrance and thanksgiving that fills the space between being called to the cross and sent out from the cross. In other words, the Mass seduces us in, transforms us in sacrifice and communion, and sends us out to do the same to the world.

III. Offering

Now, we know that it is Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb makes it possible for us to participate in the divine re-creation of the world. But how do we, right here and now, actually participate in this divine work? Sure, we can run out to feed the homeless at the shelter, or protest in front of the abortion clinics, or help sort donations at St Vincent de Paul. These are certainly acts of charity. But even these acts of charity as “acts of charity” participate in a pre-existing habit of willing the good for others. Where do we get that will, that habit of loving?

First, our Holy Father notes that we, as the Church, must receive the gift of Christ’s death and resurrection. This only makes sense. Something given to you only becomes a gift once you have received it as a gift. Sacramentally, we receive this gift in the Mass every time we say “amen.” Second, it is not enough that we remember Christ’s perfect gift of himself for us. The Passover meal was a remembrance. We have been delivered from slavery; so, though we may remember our liberation, who we are is free, looking out and forward. Benedict writes, “The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into his ‘hour’”(SC 11). We enter into Jesus’ hour through the Eucharist. Quoting his own encyclical, Deus caritatis est, Benedict says, “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than statically receive the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving”(SC 11).

As followers of Christ, we go where he goes. If he goes to the cross and the tomb, so do we. If he gives himself in sacrifice for others, so do we. If he empties himself out in an act of selfless oblation, so do we. And when we do these things, these acts of selfless oblation, we are doing more than just “serving others;” we are connecting ourselves to the “dynamic of [Christ’s] self-giving.” We are also participating in setting the stage for the dramatic re-creation of the cosmos. Having accomplished the possibility of our salvation and having brought to consummation the prophetic history of God’s people and having drawn the Body, the Church into his service, Christ prepares us to do the most extraordinary thing: transfigure the entire world!

IV. Transfiguring the world 

Our Holy Father’s focus in Sacarmentum caritatis is the Eucharist as the “sacrament of love.” For us, the Eucharist is a sign of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, pointing to and making present the once-for-all self-oblation of Jesus on the cross. When we step into the Eucharist as those redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, we step out of history and into eternity. The Mass is not a re-sacrifice of Christ. Such a thing is wholly unnecessary because the man on those wooden beams is God. And since it is God incarnate who died for us, our flesh, our human nature, is “taken up” into his death and resurrection. Everything he healed, he assumed; which means everything about us is healed! Every injury, every disease, every breach of the covenant since the garden, every sin we have ever committed or will commit is cured, closed-up, made fresh and new. And not only that—yes, there is more!—the whole of creation is brought back into “right relationship” with God’s plan.

The liturgical celebration of Christ’s sacrifice is not just a pageant that forces us to remember. Of course, we remember; but we also re-collect, re-store, re-new that which makes us perfect in Him—His likeness and image that makes us His sons. The work of the Eucharist is to make us God, to bring us into the perfected participation of the divine, to share His life intimately, passionately. Aquinas teaches us that we come to be “deiformed.” He says that “God become man so that man might become God.” Cyril of Alexandria says that we “become Christs,” we live the life of Christ. And as such, we are agents of a creaturely transfiguration. How?

Benedict, in a highly underappreciated passage in SC writes, “The substantial conversion of bread and wine into [Christ’s] body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of ‘nuclear fission’…which penetrates to the heart of all being…” As we are pulled into Christ’s self-oblation as members of his Body, we are transformed; then our transformed hearts and minds and bodies, once we are sent out, spreads out to all of creation. Literally, we take Christ to the world in our bodies. The principle of radical change introduced to creation is this: God is love, He is the Will that wills the Good, and we are His transfiguring instruments. However, we are not merely human instruments, merely agents of social change or cultural revolution, we are His Christs sent to offer ourselves in sacrifice for others. There is no half-participation, no means of simply playing along to play along. We change the world or we stay at home.

Benedict uses the phrase “nuclear fission” to describe what happens at the prayer of consecration. At that moment, the divine touches the human most intimately, and we are forever altered. The purpose of this transubstantiation is not merely ritualistic or symbolic or something akin to changing the meaning of the bread and wine for us. All of there are forms of weak participation, pale imitations of a wholly beautiful reality. Think for a moment: if all we are going in the Mass is redirecting our attention to our final goal or shifting the meaning of food and drink in order to build up community with a shared meal, then we have tragically limited the work of the cross and the empty tomb! In the same way, if we believe that what we are doing is simply remembering his sacrifice, recalling again his confession to being the sacrificial Lamb of Passover, then nothing substantial has taken place. We have jogged our memories, soothed our immediate need for comfort, and ignored the most powerful means we have for transfiguring the world.

Note again that Benedict describes the Eucharist as a “process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all”(SC 11). Do we want God to be all in all as a symbol? As a shift in definition? As a re-set goal post? No! That’s not why Christ died. These are not worth the Passion and the blood of the cross. And what’s more, none of these sparks us out into the world like a nuclear fission. From the altar at the prayer of consecration the body and blood of Christ from the cross on Calvary splashes out, flies out to the “heart of being” and readies all of creation to receive its Creator. The sacrament of love—Who Is God Himself—can do nothing less!

V. Now what?

If everything said here is true, then we have only one Path to walk, one Work to complete: we follow Christ doing what he did—preaching the Good News, teaching sound doctrine, admonishing the sinner, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, honoring the poor, and loving, loving, loving. And because the world is ruled for now by a dark spirit, we prepare ourselves for resistance, for enmity, and dissent. But because the world is a gift from Goodness Himself, we do not despair rather we work in joy and hope.

For your reflection: how am I a spark of the nuclear fission that flies from the altar of sacrifice? How do I contribute to the transfiguration of the world? Am I prepared to live in creation where God will be all in all?_____________________

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17 February 2015


NB. This one got me in trouble. . .back in the day.

Ash Wednesday
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

What does the Lord want from us? He wants now what He has always wanted: the sacrifice of our contrite hearts. Keep the burnt offerings, the bulls and rams, the incense and flowers. He wants your heart, split open, artfully arranged, freshly washed and anointed; your heart repentant, rueful, intensely sorry, and wounded by love. He wants your clean heart and mind placed on the altar, freely given, offered up in praise, turned forever to His will for you. God wants your fasting, your weeping, your mourning; He also wants your feasting, your laughter, your joy. He wants a heart rent top to bottom in true sorrow for your sins, so rend your garments if you must, but know that torn garments, smudgy foreheads, and dour faces, though signs of a proper contrition, are not contrition in themselves. It is better to be truly contrite and happy about it than to be faking contrition and hiding behind public displays of piety!

Playing at religion is a very dangerous thing, brothers and sisters. God wants our hearts and minds; He wants us to return to Him whole and entire. Do you think He can’t see through the layers of religiousy junk we sometimes slathered over our miserly souls? Do you think He can’t smell the failure of our public piety, or the rank odor of desperation in that good work we did to curry favor before Lent? Jesus himself could not be clearer than he is this morning: give alms in secret so that only the Father knows you give; pray in secret so that the Father may properly repay your trust; fast privately without being gloomy, without neglecting your appearance; anoint your head and WASH YOUR FACE! Do you think the Lord is going to smile on your grand sacrifice of walking around with ashes smudged on your forehead today? Tell me what a great witness that is and I’ll tell you to do it everyday!

Here’s your proper public Catholic witness on Ash Wednesday: first, wash your face in all humility and resist the Devil’s temptation to strut around as a “Proud Catholic.” Then look to the Lord in the desert. He goes out from the crowds. Away and into the desert. He withdraws to be with His Father. And finds himself confronted by the Devil and his lies. With what would you confront the Devil in the desert? How would you repel his seductions and deflect his temptations? Jesus is God. You aren’t. Would you fight Satan with false piety? Theatrical religiosity? Would you ward him off with some sort of amulet or spell? Let me suggest that there is no fight with the Devil when one’s heart is truly contrite, filled with grace, given over wholly to the Father as a sacrifice of praise, and lifted up on the altar.

Why am I being so hard on the public witness of piety? I know from personal experience the seduction of believing that I am accomplishing something good for God by playing at being religious. Jesus is also worried about us and how easy it is for us to confuse show and substance. This is an acceptable time for us to be truly reconciled with God, but that reconciliation is done through a heart and soul converted to God’s law of love not a smudge of ashes or a much-discussed fast or a grand gesture of almsgiving. If your day to day life at work or school or the office fails to give a faithful witness to God, then a dot of dust or an unusual bag of carrot sticks for lunch won’t change minds. In fact, more than anything, without a daily witness of true service that dot of dust says, “I’ve decided to trot out my religion today for your consumption. Isn’t it cool?”

Yea. That’s what Jesus died for. Cool. Fortunately, we have forty days to figure this out. Forty days to live intensely in the presence of the Lord. Forty days to sit at his feet and learn humility. Forty days to learn to be happy and purged, joyful and emptied. Forty days to cleave our contrite hearts, stoke the fires of sacrifice and offer our very selves to him. So, wash your face and clean your heart. 

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15 February 2015

What sort of witness are you?

6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

What sort of witness is the Lord teaching us to be?

Jesus is spending a great deal of time healing the sick, preaching to the crowds, teaching his favored disciples, driving out demons. And he is spending a great deal of time telling people to be quiet about who he is and what he's doing. Remarkably so, among the first to bear witness to Jesus’ divine Sonship are the demons, the unclean spirits who bellow out his identity: “We know who you are: the Holy One of God!” Jesus silences them with a word. The men and women who Jesus makes new with his healing touch also bear witness to who he is. And he sternly orders them to silence as well. For all the good it does! What sort of witnesses does the Lord want us to be?

Jesus seems to want to show us who he really is and at the same time he seems restrained by a need for secrecy, for silence. Let me suggest that the reason for this terrible tension is prophetic, that is, the tension is there so that it might be played out in our witness NOW, played out in the charge we have been given to be the prophetic bearers of the Word, voices for the Good News in the world.

Think about it: if Jesus had come to us like a Lord of the Rings Wizard, throwing fireballs, casting spells, riding giant eagles to fight the demons, we would have had a fantastic show, a brilliant demonstration of raw, unearthly power. But don’t you think that this sort of theater would have to be repeated again and again? Repeated to the point that it became nothing but a show? What Jesus is trying to teach us—the Good News of our salvation—would be so easily overshadowed by the spectacular special effects of the show. What would we see? The Christ dying for our eternal life? Or some sort of weird version of David Copperfield, dying horribly on the cross, and then snapping back to life and inviting us back to see the ten o’clock show?

Or, if he had come to us as a staid philosophy professor. With tweed jacket, pipe, bad graying comb-over, Jesus gathers a crowd of over-educated, middle-class egghead wanna-bes and spends one afternoon a week expounding on the Christological taxonomies of the Hebrew prophetic witness and deconstructing the meta-narrative prejudices of a bourgeois modernist cultural hegemony that insists taxonomies adequately sign “reality.” But don’t you think that this sort of theater would have to be repeated again and again? What Jesus is trying to teach—the Good News of our salvation—would be so easily smothered by pretentious academic jargon, and the always-present temptation in intellectual circles to make it all just about symbol or just about history or just about myth. Who Jesus is for us gets lost. . .

(We turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill us with the joy of salvation.)

Jesus’ public ministry in Mark’s gospel looks confused because Jesus doesn’t want us to see him as a magician, a wizard out to build a fan base. He doesn’t want us to see him as a philosopher in the classical Greek tradition, a man of High Reason, logic, and impeccable pagan virtue. Jesus wants us to see him. Him, as he is. Fully God, fully man. Capable of claiming his Father’s power to re-create the perfection of human health, to make right the wrong of sin, to bring back from the edge of total, soulless darkness the soul that reaches out, that needs saving. Jesus wants us to see him as he is: as a man with limits—a need for rest, food, companionship, love, solitude AND wants us to see him as God—He Who rests in our hearts as the sacrifice that fulfills the covenant; the One Who feeds us the food and drink of heaven; the One Who is with us always as friend and Father; Who loves us without limit, without prejudice, loves us to repentance; and the One Who is here even in our solitude, the One Who fills our longing and loneliness with immaculate mercy, perfectly refined joy.

(I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.)

Jesus Christ is a man we can bear witness for. Jesus Christ is God whose Word we can bear, whose promises we can shout about. We can be witnesses who tell stories of healing, stories of radical mercy and forgiveness, stories of unexpected grace and enlightenment. You can see and hear the gospel. You can train your mind to think with the Church, your heart to beat with the saints, and your voice to proclaim the always re-creating Word of God.

For example, Paul asks the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. We cannot all live in the circus, being showman for Jesus. Nor can we all live in the university, being bookish geeks for the Lord. But we can know and love and talk about the Jesus of this gospel. The God-Man who touches diseases and heals, who touches a disposable outcast and makes him family again. The God-man who seeks out a little solitude to recharge, to recover from the hard work of being a preacher of the Good News to the shepherdless crowds.

You can be a witness for Christ by imitating Christ: speak a word of healing, of peace, of charity wherever you find yourself. Shine out your joy! Tell the truth about our redemption in Christ: he died for us so that when we confess our sins, repent of them and do penance, we are able to receive God’s forgiveness as freed men and women, and then put that forgiveness to use as healthy food for our growth in holiness. You can be a witness for Christ by doing everything you do for the greater glory of God, by not seeking first your own benefit but the benefit of others, and always, always telling the truth of the faith.

Jesus seems restrained by a need for secrecy and silence. Are we restrained in our witness as well by secrecy and the need for silence? Do we contain our witness as a private matter, a personal religious thing that we practice all alone? Maybe there is a spirit of shame or embarrassment gagging your witness? Or maybe a spirit of intellectual pride or fear of ridicule? Maybe you have been bitten by the All-Religions-Are-Basically-the-Same-So-It-Really-Doesn't-Matter-What-I-Believe bug and think that witnessing to Christ is somehow intolerant of religious diversity or unnecessarily provocative. Perhaps your witness has been silenced by the anger and bitterness of dissenters within the Church, or militant secularists outside the Church. Regardless—literally, without regard to any these — you approach this altar tonight to take into your body the Body and Blood of Christ, the One Who died for you, the One who reached out over the void, across creation as the divine breath of life and touched you; touches you now and heals you.

Go. Show yourself to the World, to the Church, and offer as your witness the cleansing that Jesus Christ has accomplished in you. Spread it abroad. Keep coming back and keep going out.

(We turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill us with the joy of salvation.)

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14 February 2015

Turning the Ordinary into the Extra-Ordinary

5th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church,, NOLA

Those of us who have grown up in the Protestant South have heard all our lives that Catholics do not revere the Bible. Catholics prefer performing strange rituals, marching around in elaborate costumes, lighting candles and incense, and muttering to statues in a dead language. Even today, my Protestant friends distinguish between “Catholics” and “Bible Christians,” using the two words as if there is no connection between the two, no overlap. What my friends fail to grasp is the concept of the sacramental imagination. In an interview, George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul II, offers a description of the Catholic way of seeing God's creation. He says, “. . .the world has been configured by God in a 'sacramental' way, i.e., the things of this 'real world' can disclose the really real world of God's love and grace. The Catholic 'sacramental imagination' sees in the stuff of this world hints and traces of the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier of the world. . .” St. Mark's story of the feeding of the 4,000 gives us a chance to hear Jesus himself teaching us how to view his Father's creation sacramentally. A few loaves of bread and a few fish, blessed by Christ, feed a huge crowd. The unexpected generosity of God miraculously feeds the bodies of those who follow His son. Those fed have witnessed the love and grace of God in an otherwise ordinary, everyday activity: eating dinner. The Catholic sacramental imagination turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, revealing God's presence in His creation.

We have no reason to believe that the miracle described by Mark didn't happen exactly like Mark describes it—four thousand people are fed with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. We can read the story as a story about the everyday lives of Christians struggling to faithfully live out their baptismal vows. Jesus sees the trials of those who follow after him. He hears all about how we are alienated from God by sin; how we suffer from temptation, disease, persecution; how we hunger and thirst for righteousness and truth; how we strain to be merciful, loving, true to all his commands. Watching us day to day, Jesus says, “My heart is moved with pity for [you]. . .If I send [you] away hungry to [your] homes, [you] will collapse on the way. . .” We've come a long way out of the world to join the crowds that follow Jesus. He's never pretended that following him is easy. He's never lied to us and told us that being faithful is as simple as performing a few rituals or lighting a few candles or muttering prayers before a statue. We have chosen a very difficult way of living in God's creation. But He will not leave us tired and hungry. He takes the bread, blesses it, and gives it to us to eat. 

One piece of bread becomes two. And two becomes four. Four, eight. And because this bread is also his body—both human and divine—we are fed physically and spiritually. The things of the “real world” (bread, wine, oil, water) can reveal the really real world of God's love and grace. The sacramental imagination is a biblical way of living in God's world—seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling His presence, and gaining strength in body and spirit as we notice Him and give Him thanks for being with us always. 

The Psalmist sings, “In every age, Lord, you have been our refuge.” Hungry, thirsty, blind, deaf, afraid—we take refuge in God and find all that we need to succeed in His Christ.

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11 February 2015

Even the dogs eat the children's scraps

5th Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

I'll start with a rather blunt assertion: No, the Greek woman in this evening's gospel does not teach Jesus a lesson about inclusivity nor does she “open his eyes” to the needs of the Gentiles. To believe that the woman somehow enlightens our Lord with a clever retort assumes that Jesus—the incarnated Son of God—doesn't know about or understand his universal mission as the Messiah. It makes more sense—given what we know from the other gospels—to conclude that Jesus slowly reveals the fullness of his mission over time. He repeatedly orders those whom he healed to keep their healing a secret. He also refuses to perform miracles on occasion and sometimes takes his disciples off to teach them in private. These examples seem to indicate that though Jesus wants his identity widely known, he also wants to keep the exact nature of his ministry something a mystery. . .at least until his earthly ministry comes to an end on the cross. If all of this is true, then what are we to make of his exchange with the Greek woman? Like in the story of the centurion with the sick slave, the story of the Canaanite woman, the story of the man born blind, and many others—Jesus is challenging the Greek woman to publicly declare her faith, to lay claim to her inheritance as a child of God.

And what is this inheritance? Generally, she has inherited the privilege of prayer, that is, the grace to approach the Father through His Son and ask for what she needs for herself and her family. As a member of God's family, she has access to the Father. She has been gifted with the desire to praise Him, to thank Him, and to grow spiritually while doing so. By openly, freely acknowledging her trust in God's promises, the Greek woman openly, freely acknowledges God's power to accomplish in her life and the lives of her loved ones every good they need to thrive as holy creatures. We know all of this to be true b/c the moment she says to Jesus, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps,” the demon is exorcised from her daughter. 

Take note of not only the woman's admission of faith but also how she characterizes herself and her fellow Gentiles—all of those who need God's mercy through Christ. Rather than rear up in righteous indignation at Jesus' apparent insult—calling them “dogs”—the woman takes on the derisive label and admits to Jesus that “even the dogs” get scraps! This isn't exaggeration or just plain ole self-effacement. She is confessing genuine humility. Had she been playing word games with Jesus or trying to teach him a lesson, her confession of faith would have been emptied out and her daughter would not have been freed from the demon. What our Lord hears in the woman's plea is authentic love, authentic faith, and authentic humility—all gifts from the Father. These are what make her a member of God's family not her tribe or race or nation. 

The Greek woman recognizes and publicly acknowledges her need for God's blessings. As children of God, we too have access to the Father through Christ. When you pray, do you pray with genuine love, faith, and humility? Do you receive God's blessings with gratitude, openly and freely acknowledging your dependence on Him? When blessed by God as a child of God, do you multiply your blessings by sharing them with others? I hope so! Remember: even the dogs eat the children's scraps.

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08 February 2015

Painting Links

So that I may share in the Gospel

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Dom/Carmelite Laity/OLR, NOLA

Job is not a happy man right now. He's lost everything. His life is drudgery. He's a like a slave who works away his days in the sun, longing for shade. All his nights are troubled. He's soaked in months of misery. Restlessness while trying to sleep; hopeless while he's awake. He says, “. . .my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” We know all too well why Job is having such a tough time. He's lost everything. His wealth. His health. His family. All of it. He might be able to suffer well under his material losses, but he's lost one thing that all of us need most. He's lost his purpose. He's lost his end, his reason for living. If he had a purpose, he could look forward and place his losses within a bigger plan to reach that goal. But without a goal, Job has no way to give his suffering meaning. Jesus has a purpose. Paul has a purpose. And they know happiness in knowing their purpose. What purpose do you serve? Can you name the happiness that gives all of your suffering a meaning?

What's the point of having a pupose? Isn’t it easier getting out of bed in the morning knowing you have a purpose, knowing you have a goal to achieve, a To Do List for your life that needs some work? Isn't it easier making it to work or class or the next thing on the list knowing that your attention, energy, labor, and time will be focused on completing a mission, on getting something done? With the time we have and the talents we're given, don’t we prefer to see constructive and profitable outcomes? Even when we’re being a bit lazy, wasting a little time doing much of nothing, we have it in the back of our mind to get busy, to get going on something, checking that next thing on the list and moving toward a goal. It’s how we are made to live in this world. Not merely to live for a daily To Do List, but to move toward some sort of perfection, some sort of completion. 
For example, Paul writes to the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation have been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” Paul is given a goal, a purpose beyond mere survival, beyond merely getting along. Having been smacked around by the Lord for persecuting the Church, Paul finds himself ordered to a regime of holiness, a kingdom of righteousness, that demands more than rule-following, more than simply showing up and breathing in the temple's atmosphere. Paul must preach. He must travel city to city, province to province, publicly witnessing to his repentance, to the power of Christ’s mercy accomplished on the Cross.

Paul’s sleep is restful. His work exhausts him. He is a slave whose labor is never drudgery, never pointless. His end, his purpose is Jesus Christ; the telling again and again of his story; his bruising encounter with the man of love. And offering to anyone who will open their eyes to see and their ears to hear; offering to them the same restfulness; the same pleasing exhaustion; the same intense, purposeful focus that the need to proclaim the Good News compels.
Jesus, exhausted by his purpose, is doing his best to find a little time away from the crowds. When Simon and other disciples find him and say, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus, pursued, literally, by his purpose responds responsibly, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Soon he will look out over the vast crowd and, moved by compassion, teach them many things. Now, exhausted himself, he takes his students out again to preach and teach the Good News. It is his purpose – to show those hungry for God that God does indeed rule, that He holds dominion here, over all creation – heaven and earth, man and the devil – and that healing flows from faith, light always overcomes darkness, and that evil, no matter how far ahead in the worldly race, has already lost.

Job has lost his purpose and dwells in an anxious darkness. Paul is driven by his need to witness. Jesus reveals His Father’s kingdom—healing, driving out demons, preaching. Job recovers his purpose when the Lord dramatically reminds him who is God and who is creature, Who Is Purpose Himself and who has a purpose. Paul runs his preaching into every town he crosses, proclaiming the Word, setting up houses of prayer, and leaving behind men and women strong in the faith. Jesus moves inexorably toward the Cross, his work for the Way along the way reveals again and again the always, already present victory of Life over Death, freedom over slavery, final success over endless failure.

What goals do you serve? Why do you get up in the morning? What meaning does your work, your play have for you? Who are you in light of what you have promised to be and do? What makes you happy? Where do you find joy? Lots of questions! But all of these are really just one question: what is your purpose?

You have a given purpose and a chosen purpose. Your given purpose is dyed into your flesh, pressed through into your bones; it is a God-placed hook in your heart, a hook that tugs you relentlessly back to Him, back to His perfecting goodness. Your chosen purpose is how you choose to live out day-to-day your given purpose, how you have figured out how to make it back to God. Student, mother, professor, virgin, priest, monk, artist, poet, engineer, athlete, clerk, scientist, father, nurse, dentist. When your chosen purpose best reveals your given purpose, when what you have chosen to do helps who you are given to be flourish, your anxiety finds trust, your sleeplessness finds rest, your despair finds joy. And you can say with Paul: “All this I do for the sake of the gospel,” – heal, study, pray, minister, write, research, teach, drive, build, all this I do for the gospel – “so that I too may have a share in it.”

What Purpose do you serve? I mean, when you work, when you study and teach and play, toward what end do you reach? What goal seduces you forward, pulls you to the finish line? Surely for us, all of us here, that purpose is Jesus Christ. Our goal is his friendship, his love. And our goal is his witness, our telling of his Good News. We can waddle around in the darkness of sin, bumping around blind, reaching for what’s never there. We can wail into the wind like Job, moaning about the meaninglessness of life, the pointlessness of our daily striving. We can even refuse happiness, refuse to see that we have a given purpose. But you will find your release and your license, your freedom and your choice when you make yourself a slave to all, when you make yourself all things to all, to help save at least some.

Like Paul, a trusted steward, a faithful child, preach the gospel. Live it right where you are. Make it your reason for getting out of bed, for going to work, for making it to class. Make it who you are, what you do, and everything you ever will become.

Everyone is looking for you. For what purpose do you live?


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07 February 2015

Five New Paintings

 Fear No Evil (18 x 24 canvas board)

 Verdant Pastures (16 x 20 canvas board)

 My Cup Overflowing (16 x 20 canvas board)

 Joyful Task (16 x 20 canvas board)

 Nothing to Want (16 x 20 canvas board)


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06 February 2015

Fear Makes Us Foolish

St Paul Miki and Companions
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

When we fall into sin, it's usually because of pride. Herod is no exception. His degeneration into foolishness might be blamed on lust – an older man drooling over a much younger woman. But – at its core – all foolishness is pride. Salome the Dancer, and her mother, Herodias, take advantage of Herod's pride through his lust and turn his well-known generosity into cold-blooded murder. They succeed in turning Herod into a murdering tyrant b/c he is possessed by the dark spirits of anxiety and fear. Why else would a powerful king keep a holy and righteous man like John the Baptist in prison? Fear makes us foolish, and foolishness is and always will be the enemy of God's wisdom.

John preaches against Herod's adultery, warning the king again and again that his sin will taint the kingdom. Herod imprisons John, keeping him close, and preventing him from preaching against the king publicly. We can almost hear Herod's internal conflict. God's wisdom and the king's conscience draw Herod to John's preaching. Herod knows that John is right. But power, lust, and misplaced generosity prevent him from choosing wisdom over foolishness. Having consistently chosen to accomplish apparently good ends by evil means, Herod reaches a point where Salome and Herodias tip the scale and the king murders John, becoming, in this deadly choice, a Royal Fool.

Herod's fall into darkness shows us that fools are made not born. In fact, fools are self-made, constructed, if you will, out of pride, and played by men and women who once listened to wisdom. If Herod's power and pride started his decline, then fear accelerated it, and lust and hard-heartedness sealed the deal. Like all of our moral choices, vice is a habit: we choose again and again to call evil Good. Over time, we are no longer capable of recognizing the Good and come to believe that in choosing Evil we are choosing Good. Herod believes that keeping John in prison prevents political unrest – it's all about national security and John's safety. And even though he is distressed by Salome's request for John's head on a platter, Herod justifies the prophet's execution as an act of fidelity to his oath, fearing embarrassment if he breaks it. The king is motivated at every decision-point by vicious habits and these habits take him—step by step—right into moral foolishness. 

Hearing, seeing, and doing God's wisdom are all habits: choices and actions we must take one at a time, step by step. Each decision we make brings us closer to foolishness or closer to wisdom. If living in God's wisdom is your goal, then let your prayer be: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” Why this prayer? B/c fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.


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