26 June 2016

Excuses, excuses, excuses. . .[Audio Link Added]

Audio Link

13th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

I was seventeen when I first heard the call to priesthood. And I wasn't even Catholic at the time! For the second seventeen years of my life I answered God's call with “Maybe” and “Not Yet.” I used an array of excuses and dodges. I need to finish college. Then, I need to finish my Masters. Then, I need to finish my doctorate. All the while I was playing around with all sorts of spiritually dangerous ideas and practices, and not in the least bit interested in hearing anything God had to say to me. I went to my Episcopal parish off and on, and basically just managed to stay right out on the edge of the faith. Joining the Church in 1996, I revisited my vocation and decided to give it a whirl. The order I applied to rejected me in the summer of 1998. Not too long after that, I got an internal staph infection that went undiagnosed for three months and came within a few days of dying. That woke me up, and I got serious. I entered the Dominican novitiate in 1999, and I've never looked back. When Jesus hears our excuses, our delaying tactics, even our good reasons for not following him, he says things like, “Let the dead bury the dead. But you, [you] go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

So, yes, I spent seventeen years dodging God's call to priesthood. My excuses/dodges/good reasons all sounded excellent at the time. I did need to finish my studies. I wasn't yet ready to fully embrace chaste celibacy. My parents weren't keen on me being Catholic. My set of university-educated, politically-progressive friends hated the Church. There were a few things the Church teaches that I couldn't yet accept. I was living the typical life of a impoverished twenty-something grad student, which means I managed to stay alive in the fall semester by stealing fried chicken and liquor from the tailgaters in the Grove at Ole Miss home games. Don't ask how I made it in the spring. And I was still too much of a hard-headed, big-mouthed, and cynical redneck to let anyone tell me what to do or believe. So, yeah, it took seventeen years and almost dying from an undiagnosed staph infection to get me to shut up and sit down long enough to actually listen to what Christ was saying to me. I finally heard him, “Let the dead bury the dead. But you, [you] go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” No more excuses. No more dodges. No more “good reasons.” Put your hand to the plow, and don't look back.

So, Jesus is walking the countryside, preaching the Good News. He comes across a guy and says to him, “Follow me.” What does the guy say in return? “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” A perfectly good reason to delay following Christ. Burying the dead, especially your dead parents, is an ancient obligation, one blessed by countless generations of families. This guy didn't say he wanted to finish his workday and get paid; or that he needed a shower and a clean change of clothes; he didn't say that he wanted to discern for a few years and attend some retreats first, or consult with his spiritual director. He wanted to bury his dead father! Knowing the urgency of the Father's Good News, and knowing how many hearts and minds longed to be turned back to God, Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead. But you, [you] go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” What did the man do? Did he drop everything and follow Christ, leaving his father unburied? We don't know. Maybe we aren't supposed to know b/c “that guy” is you and me. Luke doesn't tell us how he responded b/c you and I are still responding. We are still answering (or not answering) Christ's invitation to follow him. You are That Guy. How do you answer Christ?

While you're considering your answer, think about this. Christ was not indiscriminate about who he invited to follow him. While he walked the earth preaching and teaching, he selected his close followers for personal instruction. Think of the Twelve. He chose them all by name to become his ambassadors to the world. He stood in front of thousands in his three years among us, and only occasionally to a very few did he say, “Follow me.” The universal call to discipleship and holiness comes after the Holy Spirit's visit at Pentecost. Only after Christ ascends into heaven does everyone receive the invitation, “Follow me.” While he was still among us, he carefully chose whom to invite. That Guy – the one with the dead and unburied father – wasn't just some random guy randomly chosen. Jesus knew him. Heart and soul, Jesus knew him. And he knows each one of us. The universal call to discipleship and holiness is directed at each one of us in the Church AND to the whole world. Jesus knows each one of us b/c we have died with him and we have been buried with him and we will be raised with him on the last day. We are members of his body, the Church. We have been chosen and invited. And so, he says to us, all of us, “[Anyone] who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is [not] fit for the kingdom of God.”

If we will be fit for the kingdom of God, we will not look to what we have left behind. Leave it behind where it belongs. Whatever “it” is. Leave the excuses, the bad decisions, the terrible mistakes, even the deliberate acts of vengeance and violence; leave the angry self-accusations, the guilt and the shame, all the junk that gathers around you when you wallow in sin. Leave it all. And plow forward. Go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Why not? You aren't smart enough. You aren't articulate enough. You're shy. You're afraid that people will think you are weird. Your family and friends will be embarrassed. You'll lose long-lasting relationships. You might lose your job. People will stare. What? You need to go bury your dead father? Let the dead bury the dead. When I entered the novitiate in 1999, I lost more than half of my friends and former grad school colleagues. By 2010, I had lost my two best friends of 24 years. When I say “lost,” I don't mean that they died. I mean that they cut me out of their lives b/c they hate the Church. My family – thank God – didn't turn away. Though they still look at me like I'm some sort of circus monkey with a bad perm.
What and who are you willing to lose to follow Christ? You might not lose anyone or anything but your sins and those who encourage sin. You might not leave behind much at all. Or, you might have to leave everything and everyone behind. The decision to follow Christ is the decision to make him Master of your heart and mind. That means putting aside whatever or whoever else rules you. It means stepping off into another world of freedom, peace, forgiveness, and mercy. And it means giving to others anything that you have received from Him.
You have plow. Now, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.

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25 June 2016

Vocation Discernment: Cautions, Advice, & Questions to Ask Yourself

Q: What basic questions should those discerning a religious vocation ask themselves?

A: I get a lot of questions from younger readers about vocation discernment. For the most part, they want to know how they know whether or not they have a religious vocation. I wish it were as easy as drawing blooding, testing it, and announcing the result. If horse had wings, etc. Here are three cautions and a few questions to ask yourself:

Three Cautions

Suspend any romantic or idealistic notions you might have about religious life. Religious orders are made up of sinful men and women. There is no perfect Order; no perfect monastery; no perfect charism. You WILL be disappointed at some point if you enter religious life. You are going to find folks in religious life who are angry, wounded, bitter, mean-spirited, disobedient, secretive, and just plain hateful. You will also find living saints.

Do your homework. There is no perfect Order, etc. but there is an Order out there that will best use your gifts, strengthen your weaknesses, and challenge you to grow in holiness. Learn everything you can about the Order or monastery you are considering. Use the internet, libraries, "people on the inside," and ask lots and lots of questions. Vocation directors are not salesmen. For the most part, they will not pressure you into a decision. They are looking at you as hard as you are looking them.

Be prepared to do some hard soul-searching. Before you apply to any Order or monastery, be ready to spend a great deal of time in prayer. You will have to go through interviews, psychological evaluations, physicals, credit checks, reference checks, transcript reviews, retreats, and just about anything else the vocations director can think of to make sure he/she knows as much about you as possible. Think of it as penance.

Practical Advice

If you are considering religious life right out of undergraduate school, consider again and again. Get a job. Spend two or three years doing some unpaid volunteer work for one of your favorite Orders. These help you to mature spiritually and will make you a better religious. Most communities these days need folks with practical life-skills like managing money, maintaining cars and equipment, etc.

If you have school loans, start paying them back ASAP! For men, this is not such a huge problem b/c most men's communities will assume loans on a case by case basis when you take solemn vows. For some reason, women's communities do not do this as much. Regardless, paying back your loans shows maturity. I was extremely fortunate and had my grad school loans cancelled after I was ordained! Long story. Don't ask.

Don't make any large, credit-based purchases before joining a community. Cars, houses, boats, etc. will have to be disposed of once you are in vows. Of course, if you are 22 and not thinking of joining an Order until you are 32, well, that's different story. But be aware that you cannot "take it with you" when you come into a community.

Tell family, friends, professors, employers that you thinking about religious life. It helps to hear from others what they think of you becoming a religious. Their perceptions cannot be dispositive, but they can be insightful.

Be very open and honest with anyone you may become involve with romantically that you are thinking of religious life. One of the saddest things I have ever seen was a young woman in my office suffering because her fiance broke off their three year engagement to become a monk. She had no idea he was even thinking about it. There is no alternative here: you must tell. Hedging your bet with a boyfriend or girlfriend on the odds that you might not join up is fraudulent and shows a deep immaturity.

Be prepared for denial, scorn, ridicule, and outright opposition from family and friends. I can't tell you how many young men and women I have counseled who have decided not to follow their religious vocations b/c family and friends thought it was a waste of their lives. It's sad to say, but families are often the primary source of opposition. The potential loss of grandchildren is a deep sorrow for many moms and dads. Be ready to hear about it.

Questions to ask yourself

What is it precisely that makes me think I have a religious vocation?

What gifts do I have that point me to this end?

Can I live continent chaste celibacy for the rest of my life?

Can I be completely dependent on this group of men/women for all my physical needs? For most, if not all, of my emotional and spiritual needs?

Am I willing to work in order to provide resources for my Order/community? Even if my work seems to be more difficult, demanding, time-consuming, etc. than any other member of the community?

Am I willing to surrender my plans for my life and rely on my religious superiors to use my gifts for the mission of the Order? In other words, can I be obedient. . .even and especially when I think my superiors are cracked?

Am I willing to go where I am needed? Anywhere in the world?

Can I listen to those who disagree with me in the community and still live in fraternity? (A hard one!)

Am I willing join the Order/community and learn what I need to learn to be a good friar, monk, or nun? Or, do I see my admission as an opportunity to "straighten these guys out"?

How do I understand "failure" in religious life? I mean, how do I see and cope with brothers/sisters who do not seem to be doing what they vowed to do as religious?

What would count as success for me as a religious? Failure?

How patient am I with others as they grow in holiness? With myself?

I can personally attest to having "failed" to answer just about every single one of these before I became a Dominican. I was extremely fortunate to fall in with a community that has a high tolerance for friars who need to fumble around and start over. In the four years before I took solemn vows, there were three times when I had decided to leave the Order and a few more times when the prospects of becoming an "OP" didn't look too good. I hung on. They hung on. And here I am. For better or worse. Here I am.

2016 Add: Many religious congregations and diocesan presbyterates are experiencing serious generational conflicts between their Baby Boom age priests and younger priests. The principal conflict seems to be over how to read and implement VC2 in the parish. Baby Boomer priests tend to be more "pastoral" and less interested in "following the rules" in theology and liturgy. They see the younger guys as rigid, institutional, and too focused on "being right." The younger priests tend to be more interested in thinking with the long-tradition of the Church and usually work hard to celebrate the sacraments according to the rubrics. They see the Baby Boomer priests as Protestant wanna-be's. These are all unhelpful stereotypes, but they persist. 

If you are thinking about the priesthood and religious life, be prepared to run into some deeply divided communities and presbyterates. Don't let these divisions dissuade you from answering God's call. This is nothing new in the Church. It's just part of being human.


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20 June 2016

12th Sunday OT: Audio Link

Audio Link for my homily, "You are who you say He is."

Preached at Our Lady of the Rosary in NOLA June 19, 2016.

N.B. If you listen to this homily, please leave me some feedback on my delivery, i.e., pacing, pronunciation, etc. This felt weird while I was preaching it (?).

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19 June 2016

You are who you say he is. . .(AUDIO LINK added)

Audio Link

12th Sunday OT 2016
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow Christ. If you will save your life for heaven, you will lose your life for Christ on earth. But if you seek to spare yourself suffering, trial, and persecution while you're alive, you'll just end up losing your eternal life. The choice couldn't be any clearer, or any more depressing. To follow Christ, it seems, is to live a life of self-sacrifice and self-denial; grimly determined to slog through this valley of tears, hoping and praying that our lives after this one will be better. The most we can hope for while trapped in this mortal coil is that we'll be given the chance to die a martyr's death and escape a long sentence in purgatory. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. And follow Christ to your execution in the Valley of Skulls. Of course, what this dreary picture leaves out is the daily reward of following Christ: the peace that comes from detaching ourselves from the weight of impermanent things; the joy that comes from forgiving and being forgiven; the knowledge that our love for others is perfecting God's love in us. It leaves out the part where self-sacrifice and self-denial are our ways of offering God praise, of giving Him thanks. It forgets to ask, “Who do you say that you are?”

Paul starts us on the way to an answer. Addressing the Galatians, he writes, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Who do we say that we are? Let's change Paul's declaration up a bit: “Through faith we are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of us who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ.” Who do we say that we are? Children of God in Christ. Dead, buried, and raised with Christ in baptism. We have put on Christ, been clothed with Christ. We belong to Christ. So, when we deny ourselves, we only give away that which is no longer ours to keep. When we take up a cross, it is Christ's cross that we lift up. When we follow after him, it is not our lives that we are spending but his. What is truly dreary, truly dismal is living a life ordered toward the things of this world, the things that will pass away, that will inevitably abandon us. What's truly depressing is spending your life staring at an end where nothing begins, where your only hope is that after you die someone might remember you. Is that who you are? Who you will be? A memory—fond or not—just a memory?

How do we get to the best answer to the question of who we are? We can start with the questions Jesus asks his disciples. First, he wants to know who the crowds say that he is. They answer. Then, he turns to his friends and students and asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers for the disciples. Note that Jesus first asks about the crowds, then he directly questions his friends. What do the disciples know about Jesus that the crowds do not? This is exactly what Jesus wants them to recognize and confess. They know who he is, and those in the crowds do not. Knowing who Jesus truly is means knowing what his purpose is, what he is here to be and do. The crowds think that Jesus is a just another prophet, like Elijah or John the Baptist. So, at most, those in the crowds will see a miracle or two; maybe two or three of them will be healed. But b/c the disciples know and confess Jesus' identity as the Christ of God, they belong to Christ; they are Abraham’s descendants; and “heirs according to the promise.” The best way to answer the question of who we are is to correctly answer the question: who do you say that Jesus is? Who you say Jesus is is who you are.

And if you say that Jesus is the Christ, then you will deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow him. If you will save your life for heaven, you will lose your life for Christ on earth. But if you seek to spare yourself suffering, trial, and persecution by denying Christ while you're alive, you'll just end up losing your eternal life. The reason for this is simple: you belong to Christ. We all belong to Christ. And belonging to Christ has consequences. As heirs to the promise, we have our own promises to keep. To seek holiness through self-sacrifice and self-denial. To bear witness to the mercy we've received from God. To forgive those who have sinned against us. To enthrone the Holy Spirit in the tabernacles of our hearts and surrender all of our gifts to His service. None of these promises is easy to fulfill. But they are all the more difficult to keep if we shy away from confessing that Jesus is the Christ, if we persist in following the crowds and making him into a latter-day prophet, or a social reformer, or a political revolutionary. He showed us the way to eternal life on his cross—sacrificial love. And it is sacrificial love that will nail each one of us to our own cross. . .if we will follow him; if we deny the Self and all that bloats and rots the Self in this world.

So, who do you say that Jesus is? Do you follow after a Barbie Doll Jesus, changing his designer outfits whenever the whim strikes? Do you say that he was just a religious leader that died in the first century? Some biblical scholars argue that Jesus was really an early second century literary composite of many different prophets. The gospel writers and editors invented Jesus to help the early church in its PR campaign against the Jews and Romans. Or maybe you would say that Jesus was a peace-nik vegetarian hippie prototype with serious Daddy issues? Just remember: whoever you say that Jesus is tells you who you are. And what you have promised to do with your life. And what you will be after you are gone. Our Lord isn't a Barbie Doll or a literary composite. And following him isn't always a parade. He tells the disciples what will happen to him: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the [religious leaders] and be killed and on the third day be raised.” If they follow him, they can expect the same. And so can we. Knowing this, expecting this: who do you say that Jesus is? Not just “who is Jesus to you” but who is he really, truly? If he is the Christ, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. Daily. Daily, seek to spend your life living as a child of God clothed with Christ. You belong to Christ. You are Abraham’s descendants, and you are heirs according to the promise.

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18 June 2016

Worry Not!

11th Week OT (S)  
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP  
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters b/c a servant divided in half is no servant at all. Like the child Solomon would split in half to share btw the bickering mothers, a servant with divided loyalties is dead to both masters. So, we either serve God, or we serve Mammon. Never both. We know what happens to us when we set aside the gods of worry and commit ourselves to serving God alone: done sincerely and habitually, a peace that passes all understanding settles into our bones, and we get as close to Happiness as we can while body and soul remain together. But what happens when we choose Mammon? What happens when we dedicate our time, talent, and treasure to the worldly ambitions of Worry? If serving the Prince of Peace brings us peace, then serving the unclean spirit of Worry brings. . .more Worry. More anxiety. Deeper and darker spiritual war. Serving God means serving others in His name, for His glory. Serving Mammon means serving Self, even if, and especially when, serving Self is self-destructive. Can any one of us add a year, a day, an hour to our lives by worrying? “If God so clothes the grass of the field [. . .] will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” 

What's faith got to do with worry? The human brain is nature's most powerful pattern-seeking and pattern-making machines. We take in massive amounts of sensory data and in milliseconds turn it all into a coherent, accurate depiction of the world. Second only to the power of the human intellect is the power of the human will. As we take in billions and billions of pieces of sensory data, and as the brain churns away at building an accurate picture of our world, the will is struggling to decide What To Do About All of This. How do I react? What can I change? Is this dangerous? Is that safe? Left to itself the will will always act to preserve the body, and if that means scaring the snot out of us, so be it. But living in a constant state of life-preserving fear threatens our spiritual lives. We come to believe—falsely—that by will alone we can change that over which we have no control. Faith is the willful act of trusting in God. We set our hearts and minds firmly on the way to eternity, training ourselves to see and hear this world as a passage through to God, back to God. Worry then becomes all about not trusting that God's will and care is sufficient for today. Worry is all about the lie that I am my own god; that I am my own Master. 

And, as Jesus says, we cannot serve two masters. I serve God, or I serve Myself. I live eternally in peace, or I die daily in worry. I place everything I am and have into His hands for His use, or I snatch it all for myself and desperately try to control the uncontrollable. Is there a concrete way to surrender to God? A way to open my hands and let it all fall into His lap? There are many. Here's just one, perhaps the best one: look at your world, your life, everything—family, friends, co-workers, possessions, everything, and consciously, purposefully name it all “Gift.” Nothing and no one is mine by right. Nothing and no one is mine by merit. Everything and everyone is to me and for me a God-given gift. As gifts, everything and everyone comes into my life gratuitously. Without condition or guarantee. Bless it all by naming everyone and everything with its true name: Gift. Food, clothing, job, spouse, education, talent, time, treasure, life itself, everything is a gift. Serve the Gift-giver by becoming His gift to others. Our heavenly Father knows what we need. Seek and serve His kingdom and His righteousness first. And everything you need will be given to you.

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17 June 2016

Spend your treasures

11th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory

Noting the ever-present threat of moths and decay and thieves, Jesus advises his disciples to avoid storing their treasures here on earth. Even well-loved prizes and keepsakes are subject to the wear and tear of gravity, greed, and the occasional, hungry bug. Of course, the question here isn't really about where we ought to store our treasures. By highlighting the possibilities for storing our treasures, Jesus indirectly dares us to question the nature of what it is that we treasure. In other words, by advising us to store up our treasures in heaven and not on earth, Jesus is telling us that anything we could store on earth cannot be a treasure. A true treasure, that which is permanently valuable, cannot be eaten, stolen, or lost to rot, and anything we can lock in a box, hide under a floorboard, or pack into a freezer bag can disappear, will disappear, eventually. What sort of treasure cannot, will not fall apart over time or diminish in value if given away? In fact, what sort of treasure increases in value for you the more you give it away? The only kind of treasure that can be stored in heaven: the favor of God when we follow His Christ in preaching and teaching the Good News, and serving the least of His people. What the Church keeps, we lose; what we spend, we have. 

As creatures intimately bound to the material world, as embodied souls thoroughly subject to space and time and gravity and all those other terribly inconvenient physical realities, it is sometimes difficult, more than difficult at times, to move our thinking and doing beyond the immediate and the proximate and to think and do in terms of the infinite and the eternal. For Christians, still bound to the material world though not of it, our thinking and doing is best focused on The End of Things and the holy pretense of thinking and doing as if The End were here already. What difference does it make to our plans, our investments, our projects if we fake the End Time? Does that sound dishonest? Well, it's what we are supposed to be doing—faking the End Times, that is, living now as if the End were here. Not running around screaming and hoarding food and water but rather setting up our lives as if God's justice already prevails, as if Christ ruled here and now every heart and mind, as if the new heavens and the new earth were set resolutely into their places and were just waiting for us to arrive. 

Living “as if” in this way doesn't mean that we believe the Kingdom of Heaven is some sort of material paradise destined to be manifested by the work of our hands! No. Living “as if” our treasure were storable only in heaven and never on earth means living in full and glorious knowledge that our Lord has won his victory over death and that everything we do is motivated by the living hope that his death and resurrection reveal to us. That's the light that dispels the darkness: the living hope, the daily hope, the hope moment by moment, knowing that God's promises have been fulfilled. Our task—bound to the world but not of it—is to keep the Word, store the Word by freely giving it away; to store up our heavenly treasure by going on a wild spending spree. The more we spend, the more we save!


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16 June 2016

Returned to NOLA

I have returned to NOLA after visiting The Squirrels. . .

Upon my return I discovered several packages sent from the Wish List

A couple had no invoices, so I don't know who sent them. However, I pray for my Benefactors every day and God knows who you are.

Thanks to Evandro M. for the McCabe book. . .I will be using a couple of chapters of this book for my homiletics class this coming semester.

And thanks to Dr. Becky for the acrylic varnish. . .one can never have too much varnish, I discovered.

And thanks to Suzanne S. for the messenger bag. . .I am now a Hipster Friar!

I rec'd a copy of Troy Jollimore's new volume of poetry. . .no name on the invoice. It looks like it may have been sent directly from the publisher. . .odd.

Mendicant thanks to all!


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11 June 2016

How you feel about it is irrelevant. .. .

11th Sunday OT 2013  
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP  
St. Dominic/Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Let's get right to it: why does the notoriously sinful woman wash Jesus' feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and anoint them with oil? But before we tackle that question, let's ask another one: why should we ask that question at all? Why should we ask why she does what she does? Two reasons: 1) her motives for doing what she did tells us a great deal about how and why her sins are forgiven; and 2) the parable Jesus tells Simon is meant to teach him (and us) about the long-term effects of forgiveness. So, why does she do it? She wants Jesus to reward her with absolution. She wants to embarrass the smug Pharisee in his own home. She wants to appear in public with a great prophet and discredit him by association. Or, we can go with Jesus' assessment of her motives, “. . .her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” The notoriously sinful woman honors Jesus in a way his host did not b/c she wants to show Jesus Great Love. Tying her devotion back to the parable of the generous creditor, Jesus concludes, “. . .the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” We are forgiven everything. How big is your love? 

Here's a better question: how big can your love be? The only thing we know for sure is that our love cannot be bigger than God who is Love Himself. So, btw the Nothingness of Evil and the Perfection of God, we have plenty of room to grow and shrink, to expand and contract. When we grow in love, we do so along with God in response to the Great Love that He gives us. When our love shrinks, we do so as well. We become less human, less like the image and likeness of God who made us. Of course, it's sin that causes us to shrink in love, to contract away from God. It's sin that derails us on our Way to God, and sin that staunches the free flow of mercy into our lives. This is why Jesus directly ties the sinful woman's love for him to her forgiveness. Which came first: her love or his forgiveness? Did Jesus forgive her as a reward for loving him? Or does she love him b/c he forgives her? Jesus says, “. . .her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” So, she loves first, then he forgives. But how does she love in the first place while wallowing in sin? Surely, she must be forgiven before she can love? Can our love ever be big enough to overcome your sin? No. But God's love for us is big enough to make up the difference, big enough to bring us all to repentance through Christ. 

Paul writes to the Galatians, “I have been crucifed with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…” You see the genuis of the Catholic faith is that nothing required of us all is truly required of us alone. We admit from the beginning that we can do nothing without first receiving the grace necessary to complete the task. Even our desire to cooperate with God’s various gifts is itself a gift. Our completed tasks in grace are no more responsible for saving us than any number of goats sacrificed and burned on an altar. We are not made just by our works. In other words, we cannot work our way into holiness apart from the God of grace Who motivates us to do good works. Paul writes, “We who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ even we have believed in Christ Jesus…b/c by works of the law no one will be justified.” We are made just when we are crucifed with Christ (in baptism) and when he abides in us (in confession and Eucharist) we remain just. We can proclaim with Paul then, “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself for me.” We can say, “I live by knowing, trusting that Christ loves me away of my sin.” 

Can we, then, be members of the Body of Christ, the Church, who participate in the ministries of the Church not for pragmatic gain, nor the need to “feel something,” nor in the hope of fitting-in, but b/c we long to show Christ a Great Love, the love that he first showed us on the cross and shows us even now on this altar? Can we do what the sinful woman does: freely, openly, purely, and without caring about gossip or any negative consequences, can we express our Great Love for Christ and one another with the gifts of tears—humility, forgiveness, mercy; and the gifts of service—teaching, preaching, healing, feeding? Can you show others—for no other reason or purpose than your Great Love for God—can you show others the Christ Who Lives In You? And can you show them that Christ did not die for nothing but that he died and rose again for everything, everyone everywhere? And can you show them that b/c he died and rose again for everything and everyone everywhere, that they too, saying YES to his gifts of trust, hope, and love, that they too can shine out a Christ-light for all to see, that they too can wash filthy feet with repentant tears and anoint them clean with precious oil? 

Now, you might thinking at this point: “Hmmm. . .I can say that I love God, but I don't really feel like I love God. He loves me, I know, but I don't feel Him loving me.” Let me gently remind you: your feelings on the truth of God's love for you are irrelevant; that is, whether or not you feel God's love is irrevelant to the truth that God does love you. Since at least the middle of the 19th c.,* Christians have been duped into believing that emotions take priority over the intellect in all things theological, that the only worthy human response to reality is emotional. We've replaced “What do you think?” with “How do you feel?” and we've decided that how we feel is more important than what we think. This is not the Catholic faith. We are rational animals not emotive animals. We are human persons composed of a human body and a rational soul. That which makes us most like God is our intellect not our passions. Why am I ranting about this? B/c too often I see otherwise faithful Christians anguishing over their apparently empty spiritual lives b/c they do not feel God's presence. Feelings ebb and flow, come and go. Yes, feelings are spiritually significant, but they do not tell us much about the truth. The truth is: God loves you. He is with you. And how we feel about these truths is irrelevant to whether or not they are true. 

The notoriously sinful woman's sins are forgiven whether she feels forgiven or not. The Pharisee is a hypocrite whether he feels like a hypocrite or not. Jesus did not command us to feel love. He commanded us to love. So, angry, sad, joyful, exhausted, pitiful, happy—does it matter to our obligation to love? No, it doesn't. Do not let fleeting emotions bargain away the triumphs of God's Love. Feel what you feel and Love anyway. Feel angry and love anyway. Feel depressed, exhausted, spiteful, and love anyway. Feel elated, ecstatic, on cloud nine, and nearly uncontrollably happy, and love anyway. Feel bored, isolated, cranky, and mean, and love anyway. Christ did not die for nothing. He died for you. And you are not nothing. You are everything to him. We are everything to him. Yes, our sins betray us. But his Great Love forgives us. Our debt is always canceled, always forgiven. Knowing this, is your love big enough to forgive others? Probably not. But God's love for you is big enough to make up the difference. He loved you first anyway, so allow Him to forgive through you. Allow yourself to be just one small way for His Great Love to be found in this world. Allow yourself to be the greater love of Christ who lives in you. 

*I'm thinking particularly of Friedrich Schleiermacher, who reduced religious faith to feeling and intuition.

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10 June 2016

Getting Right with Jesus

NB. Squirrels are keeping me busy. . .

10th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Many, many years ago, a good decade before I entered the Church, I traveled to Mobile, AL with two college friends to celebrate Madri Gras. Our first night out took us into the street revelry of the Central Business District. Mingled in with the drunks, the streakers, the homeless, and lots of broke college kids were small groups of Protestants handing out pamphlets. Without much luck these folks tried to persuade the party people of Mobile's Madri Gras to abandon their iniquity and repent. One particularly scary looking fellow had drawn a crowd with his fire and brimstone preaching. He stood on a milk crate and waved a hand-written placard that read, “You Had Better Get RIGHT With Jesus!” My friends and I—all raised Baptist—chuckled at this knucklehead b/c we had long ago given up such fundamentalist nonsense. But the preacher's warning became a catchphrase for us for the next year or so. Anytime one of us did something wrong, we'd shout in our best Baptist preacher's voice, “You'd better get RIGHT with Jesus!” Jesus himself tells us, “getting right” with him surpasses “getting it right” in the Law. 

All of the gospel readings this week have provided us with the chance to examine the relationship btw the Old and New Covenants. From Day One, the Church has taught that the New Covenant in Christ fulfills all of the promises made by the Father in the Old Covenant. The Mosaic Law is fulfilled in the Law of Charity. The prophecies are fulfilled by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Christ. But what does this mean for us? What is the fundamental difference btw the Old and New Covenants, the difference that brings us to righteousness? In his 1993 encyclical, Veritas splendor, John Paul II, writes, “. . .it is through faith in Christ that we have been made righteous: the 'righteousness' which the Law demands, but is unable to give, is found by every believer to be revealed and granted by the Lord Jesus”(23). The Old Covenant revealed righteousness, made the need for a right relationship with God known, but it could not establish that right relationship. Where laws, animal sacrifices, and purity codes failed to make us right with God, Christ Jesus not only succeeded in making righteousness possible, he actually makes us righteous by our faith in him. Christ achieves in us all that he makes possible for us. 

To his disciples, Jesus issues this dire warning: “. . .unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” The righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees is based on the Old Covenant; it is revealed but not made. Our righteousness must go deeper than just doing the good works that might create a relationship btw the Divine Lawgiver and a Law Abiding Believer. Our rightness with God must surpass the mere possibilities of the Law and be established by faith in the One who fulfills the Law. In other words, trying to get right with God under the Law was a risky gamble—might work, might not. Getting right with God through Christ is a guaranteed win, every single time, a win. Why? Because in Christ, every promise of the Law and the prophets has been made good. Nothing has been left to chance. “Getting right with Jesus” surpasses “getting right with the Law” b/c Jesus has already fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law for us! Therefore, invest the wealth of your faith, your invaluable trust in Christ Jesus. In him is found and established for us the righteousness that frees us from death forever.


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04 June 2016

A Strange Miracle. . .???

NB. I'm visiting the squirrels. . .here's one from 2013.

10th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Writing against the heresies of the Gnostic, Marcion in the second century, Tertullian uses Jesus' miraculous resuscitation of the widow's son to a make a point about Christ's relationship with his Father. On the way to making his point, Tertullian quickly summarizes the scene from Luke and notes, almost offhandedly, “This was not a strange miracle." Not a strange miracle? Did I miss something? Luke is reporting that Jesus returns a dead man back to life, right? Out of compassion for a widow whose only son has died, Jesus touches the dead man's coffin, and says, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And he does. Tertullian tells us that it is not strange that a dead man rises from his coffin? Nothing unusual about that at all. Tertullian and I have very different definitions of the word “strange.” To be fair to Tertullian, he's making a larger point by using this miracle. His larger point is that the revival of the widow's dead son is not at all strange when viewed in the longer history of miracles. He asks, if God's prophets can perform miracles of such magnitude, why not His Son? Especially when the miracle bears the burden of revelation: “. . .they glorified God, exclaiming. . .'God has visited his people.'” And God still visits His People. 

Just a day or two before reviving the widow's son, Jesus had healed the centurion's servant. In both cases, Jesus showed compassion and exercised great power. In both cases, his interventions gave witness to his ministry and glory to God. And in both cases, news of his words and deeds spread like wildfire over Judea. But there is one interesting difference btw the two events. In the case of the centurion's servant, Jesus acts on a request for healing. No such request is made in the case of the widow's son. What's interesting is that the power and glory of God are revealed in both cases, whether those most directly involved in the miracle ask for God's help or not. Where Christ goes—preaching, teaching, healing—so goes the most exacting revelation of God possible. The truth of that revelation—God's Self-revelation—is not contingent upon the need, the desire, the faith, or the belief of those to whom He reveals Himself. To those with eyes to see and ears to hear, He is uncovered, unveiled, and all there is to do is give thanks and praise! For others, strangeness abounds when a miracle occurs and there is nothing to do but seek a non-miraculous explanation. 

Let's ask a somewhat difficult question: do we need a strange miracle to occur before we can say with the utmost confidence: “God has visited His people!”? Do we need a man several days dead revived? Do we need a sick servant healed from a distance? If so, if you need a strange miracle to believe, ask yourself why. Why do I need such thing? And consider: God visits His people daily in the Eucharist. In the breaking of the bread, a great prophet rises among the people. God's mercy; His healing touch; His cleansing spirit; all the gifts necessary to come to Him in the perfection of His Christ. . .all freely available right here in His Church. Think of them as miracles. . .strange little miracles, if you want. Regardless, strange or not, miracles or not, in the Eucharist, all of the sacraments, Christ touches you and says to you, “Arise!” Arise from death. Arise from sin. Arise from disease, doubt, distress, worry. Arise, speak, bear witness, and be yourself a revelation of God the Most High! What else is there for any of us to do but arise and bear witness; arise and give testimony to the miracle of our salvation; arise and speak out for the glory of God that we are no longer slaves to sin but free men and women burdened by nothing and no one but the surpassing love of God and the inheritance we have received through His Son? 

Is our salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus a strange miracle? Yes and no. Given what little we know about the nature of God—that He is Love—and given what we know about His Christ—that he is fully human and fully divine—and given what we know about the nature of creation—that all of it, us included, participates in the divine life—then, no, it would seem that God's love for us is not miraculous at all. That He would condescend to send His Son among us to save us through sacrificial love seems like the perfectly natural act of a loving Father, not miraculous at all. But then we consider how we look upon creation: how we are tempted to explain the objects and processes of nature w/o reference to our Creator; how we work so hard to acquire things and dominate people outside the laws of charity; how we torture truth, desecrate beauty, and defile goodness, then: Yes! indeed, our salvation is a strange miracle, with emphasis on strange. Through all of the messes we make that we come to accept and receive God's grace and find ourselves lifted up to and adopted into the holy family, yes, that's strange indeed. Miraculously strange. 

“Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sits up and begins to speak. Jesus gives him back to his mother. “Fear seized [the crowd], and they glorified God, exclaiming, 'A great prophet has arisen in our midst,' and 'God has visited his people.'” Through their fear and amazement, the witnesses to this strange miracle recognize the work of the Most High. Through their awestruck fear, they give glory to God, and proclaim the news that God has visited His people. He still visits His people. He still reveals Himself through His Word, His Christ, and His creation. The truths He reveals are not contingent upon the need, the desire, the faith, or the belief of those to whom He reveals Himself. Do we need strange miracles to see His truth? Do you wait for some strange sign to believe? That's not the faith we share. We believe on the witness of Christ's apostles and the witness of his Church. We believe on the evidence of reason rightly revealed as a divine gift. We believe b/c we know who we were before Christ; who we would be w/o Christ, and all that we can be with Christ and him alone. Arise from death. Arise from disobedience. Arise from weakness, uncertainty, pain, and trouble. Arise. Speak. Bear witness. And be yourself a revelation of God the Most High!


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30 May 2016

Memorial Day

In honor of our American veterans! 

Pray for those who have served, are serving, and for those who have given their lives.


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29 May 2016

I like to eat!

Audio File

Corpus Christi 2016
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

I love to eat! (Big surprise, uh?) And I love to cook. But since I joined the Order in 1999, I haven't had many opportunities to cook. Everywhere I've lived in the Order, we've had someone to cook for us. One exception: during my time at Blackfriars Hall at Oxford U. the brothers took turns cooking. I loved it b/c I got to show off my southern cooking skills – fried chicken, baked pork chops, garlic mashed potatoes, cornbread. The last time I was up to cook for the 23 of us in the house, I chose to go out with an American bang – hamburgers, fries, and cole slaw. I've never seen a bunch of Brits so excited about a meal! To this day, some 12 yrs after that American blow-out, my Blackfriars brothers remember my burgers. And even the friars who joined up recently – have never even met me – know me as the Burger King! That is the power of food. That's the power of good food. . .a truth all the good citizens of New Orleans know from birth. If food this side of heaven can form the foundation of our memories, what can the Food of Heaven do for us? The Food of Heaven – the Body and Blood of Christ – can get us into heaven! But before we are ready for heaven, we have some holy work to do down here.

And helping us with our holy work is part of what the Body and Blood of Christ does. Jesus tells his disciples at one point, “You can do nothing w/o me.” He also promises them (and us), “I will be with you always.” We know that after he ascends to the Father and sends his Holy Spirit among us, Christ remains with us always in the Body of his Church – that's us. And like any hardworking body, we need good food and good drink to stay alive and working. Not just any old hamburger and diet cola will do! If we are to do the holy work we've been given to do, then we need holy food and holy drink. We need the Body and Blood of Christ to keep us alive and working. And so, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I handed on to you what I received from the Lord.” He then recounts what he received from the Lord – the institution of the Eucharist, the bread and the cup, ending with, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Every time you eat his Body and drink his Blood, you celebrate the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ Jesus, and you do so until he comes again. That celebration, that proclamation of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension is the source of our strength to do holy work.

When we take into ourselves his Body and Blood, we come closer to being who and what Christ himself is. My job for me is to become as much like Christ as I can this side of heaven. Your job for you is to become as much like Christ as you can this side of heaven. Why do we need to become like Christ? I need to become as much like Christ as I can so I can help you become as much like Christ as you can. I help you as a priest. You help me to become more like Christ as faithful lay men and women. We help one another according to our individual gifts, but we are all working on the same holy work: becoming Christs for one another. To be clear here: we are not just imitating Jesus to be good examples for one another. By worthily receiving his Body and Blood, we are made Christs for one another. Around 350 A.D., St. Cyril of Jerusalem*, addresses a group of people who were just baptized and confirmed. He says to them: “. . .having therefore become partakers of Christ you are properly called Christs. . .because you are images of Christ.” We are partakers of Christ in baptism, confirmation and, most especially, in the Eucharist; therefore, we are images of Christ and properly called Christs
Now, I mentioned earlier that good food makes for good memories. In my family, no event of any significance goes without a meal. We say, “When two or more Powell's are gathered together, there is a pecan pie.” I remember the big pots of seafood stew I made for my novitiate classmates. I remember the 20 course meal we made to celebrate the turn of the millennium. I remember the Memphis ribs we served at my priestly ordination. And in about three days I gonna remember my mama's fried chicken in Byhalia, MS! Like I said, I like to eat. But I don't eat to remember. Remembering just comes along for the gastronomical ride. Jesus tells us to eat and drink to remember him. Not just to recall him in memory, but to re-member. . .to make us once again a member of his Body. To strengthen our attachment to his Body. To reinforce our belonging to his ministry. There's no magic to this remembrance. He says do it, and so we do. He says that the bread and wine are his Body and Blood, and so they are. He is made present in the sacrament. We eat and we drink. And grow just that much closer to him. We become just that much more like him.

The solemnity of Corpus Christi sharpens our focus on the vitality and necessity of the Eucharist to our growth in holiness. Without it, we can do nothing. Without it, we cannot thrive as followers of Christ. He is our food and drink, our life and our love. For the Eucharist, we need priests. Chicken won't fry itself. And gumbo don't grow on trees. Simply put: no priests, no Eucharist. I will end with a challenge: once a week, once a month find a chapel of perpetual adoration – we have one at St. Dominic's, there's another at St. Catherine of Siena. While in the presence of the sacramental Christ, pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Specifically, pray that the men God has called to priesthood will find the courage to say Yes to that call. Pray that the men and women called to religious life will say Yes to their call. Many bishops and vocation directors in this country have testified to the power of Eucharistic Adoration to send them men for the priesthood, and men and women for religious life. We will have 136 seminarians at NDS next year. Men from about 18 dioceses and 4 religious orders. We need ten times that many for several more decades to meet the needs of Catholics in the South. 
Jesus took five fish and two loaves and fed 5,000. Everyday priests all over the world take bread and wine and feed millions the Body and Blood of Christ. The strength of his Body on earth and the doing of our holy work depend on the Eucharistic Christ.

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26 May 2016

Coffee Cup Browsing (Thursday)

"Obama lowered the bar and Trump skipped over it." And that's not good for America.

Couric's fake but accurate Dan Rather-esque agitprop film on guns.

Inspector General's report: Hillary broke federal law.

Watching Progs eat their own. . .it ought to be a Reality Show!

"Transgender Bathroom Nihilism" will put an end to Title IX.

The four "hooks" of Pope Francis' thought process. . .I don't really know what numbers one and three mean. 

Eastern Province Dominican ordain largest class since 1971. . .

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Philip Neri: the Apostle of Joy!

St. Philip Neri: the Virtue of Joy

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA
19 April 2015

“Men are generally the carpenters of their own crosses.” – St Philip Neri

Part I
It is early February in the year 1590. Philip Neri – Pippo Buono – is 75 years old and long a saintly figure in the streets and courts of Rome. Confessor and confidant to cardinals, statesmen, thugs, and fishwives, Pippo stands with the entire Oratory community of the Chiesa Nouva and eleven cardinals, waiting for the solemn procession to arrive. Relics of the ancient martyrs, Papias and Maurus, had been discovered in the titular church of Agostino Cardinal Cusano earlier in the year. Cardinal Cusano, a penitent under Pippo's spiritual care, wanted to bestow on his confessor and friend a singular honor. He had ordered the newly discovered relics to be transferred to Pippo's home, the Chiesa Nuova. When the procession arrives, the Papal Swiss Guard comes to attention and forms an aisle for the relics into the church. As the relics pass by Pippo, a familiar buzzing begins in his heart. An old friend, Joy, rises in his soul and Pippo does what he always does when the nearness of holiness threatens him with ecstasy. He does something foolish. Where most of us would drop to our knees in prayer, or shout out praise and thanksgiving to God, Pippo does the unexpected. He walks up to one of the stoically serious Swiss Guards and begins pulling on his beard!1 For St. Philip Neri, for Pippo Buono, the joy that love demands of us is best expressed in humble acts of apparent foolishness.

And about his apparent foolishness there is much to say. Reading Pippo's biographies is like reading a catalog of schoolboy pranks. Attending vespers at a fashionable parish, he would dress like a beggar and loudly mispronounce the Latin. He would send penitents on public errands with their clothes turned inside-out. He would demand that the young dandies who came to him for advice shave half their beards. He was once seen skipping like a child inside the church of St Peter in Chains. And another time, during Mass at the Chiesa Nuova, he had a barber cut his hair!2 Many thought he was simply an addle-minded old man. Others thought he was a saint entirely lost to ecstasy. Pippo saw himself as a sinner tempted by pride to embrace the power and glory that his closeness to God afforded him, a temptation that – on a much larger scale – had corrupted Rome and exiled godly humility. Pippo's antics were not attention-seeking, or foolishness for the sake of foolishness. His ridiculous behavior kept his joy grounded in humility. He feared the lightness of his heart at the merest thought of God would lift him away – literally, allow him to fly – and he feared that his people would come to believe that only those so lifted in flight could be said to be holy. His life, his work, his death all point us toward the truth of joy: Joy is love in action. Human joy, our joy, is divine love, God's love for us, in action.

With Pippo's living-admonition to remain firmly grounded in humility ringing in our ears, we can move – cautiously move – toward a less animated exploration of the virtue of joy and how joy must enliven a priest's ministry. I say “cautiously move” because joy is an effect of love and we do ourselves only a little good by simply pinning joy to a specimen board, splaying open its belly, and dissecting its parts. Examination is good and necessary, but it is also woefully insufficient. Joy is best known in being joyful. Not by knowing the names and functions of all its parts. That said, we turn to the Great Dissector himself, Thomas Aquinas, for the better parts of understanding where we are intellectually with joy.

According to Thomas, strictly speaking, joy is not a virtue.3 It is not an operative habit, nor does it incline us to perform any specified acts. However, the virtues (theological, moral, intellectual) do tend to produce “several ordinate and homogeneous acts,” or effects. In the case of the virtue of charity, joy is one such ordinate and homogeneous act, making joy an effect of charity. Thomas writes, “Hence [charity] inclines us to love and desire the beloved good, and to rejoice in it. But in as much as love is the first of these acts, that virtue takes its name, not from joy, nor from desire, but from love, and is called charity. Hence joy is not a virtue distinct from charity, but an act, or effect, of charity. . .” 
How are these scholastic distinctions even remotely pertinent to our exploration of Pippo's apparent foolishness? Philip Neri studied philosophy at the Sapienza in Rome and theology with the Augustinians just short of a decade after Emperor Charles V paid mercenaries to sack the city in 1527. In his biography of Pippo, Paul Turk, notes, “. . .it is well testified that he read St. Thomas Aquinas throughout his life and that later on he was capable of discussing intricate problems with learned men of his day.”4 Though Pippo always downplayed his intellectual prowess and education, the influence of Thomas in Pippo's day was pervasive and unavoidable. Pippo often sent young men to the Dominicans and maintained friendships with the friars at San Marco in Florence. The fiery friar-preacher, Savonarola, was a life-long inspiration for Pippo. So, it is a safe assumption that the fine scholastic distinctions found the Angelic Doctor's work made their way into the saint's humble heart and mind, and were given an exaggerated expression in his apparent foolishness. Pippo fully understood that his antics were both a means to humility and a way to be loving. In other words, he wasn't just acting crazy to be seen acting crazy. When the fire of joy overflowed, Pippo – always mindful of the temptation of vanity – let loose in the streets of Rome a circus of God's love and drew to Him Who Is Love crowds of sinners to be welcomed and washed clean. For sinners, foolishness was Pippo's hook. For himself, it was a penance.

If we take Pippo's life as a dramatic reading of Thomas' notion of joy, we can better see not only why Pippo lived as he did, but also how we have so misunderstood joy. Assuming that Thomas is correct concerning joy – and, of course, he is! – then we must admit that we've been “doing joy” wrong for quite some time. Like most of our traditional philosophical and theological vocabulary and grammar, joy has been stripped of its transcendental referent – de-transcendentalized, if you will. The modernizing project of the so-called “Enlightenment” demanded that our language submit itself to the grubby paws of naturalized reason and bow to the harsh judgments of empirical science. Any attempt to reach above human reason and grasp at the transcendent was ruled out of order. Rather than reinvent an entirely new language for the modern project, our Betters took the languages they had on hand – traditional philosophy and theology – and began re-writing the dictionaries to scour them clean of the natty influences of silly supernatural superstitions. The virtues were re-paganized into merely human attributes, laudable behaviors with nothing above them to strive toward and nothing beneath them for support. If the virtues suffered such a barbaric treatment, then their “ordinate and homogeneous acts” and effects suffered as well. Desire and joy as effects of charity – de-transcendentalized – became little more than human longing and momentary delight. Nothing above, nothing below. Nothing to move toward, nothing to stand on. 

The current best definition of joy? “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” A feeling. Not an act of love or an effect of charity. But a feeling. A feeling of what? Pleasure and happiness. How defined? No idea. With nothing as a referent, pleasure and happiness are defined by nothing more than the individual expressing joy. Do the ISIS terrorists who are beheading Christians in Iraq feel joy? Sure, why not? If it makes them happy – and they certainly look happy – why not call it joy? Would Thomas and Pippo call it joy? Is beheading another human being in order to instill terror in others a loving act? Hardly. Yet we can rightly describe these terrorists – using our modern dictionaries – as joyful.

My purpose in rehearsing the fall of our traditional language is to bring into focus the depths to which we have fallen in allowing our words to become bastardized by nominalism. That is, by not challenging the underlying assumptions of the modern world's use of language, we immediately surrender the field to nihilism and chaos. When we use words in the way that our Betters demand we use them, we sign away our natural freedom to speak as Christians. Pippo may not have understood the problem of nominalism or even knew that the problem existed; however, he understood all too well the temptations inherent in allowing words and concepts to remain merely marks on a page. Over and over again in his sayings, his letters, his strange antics in the streets of Rome, Pippo acted out the fires of joy. Not simply speaking about joy but acting joyfully; loving sinners; acting as a flesh and bone avatar of joyful repentance. Turk notes that Pippo never gave a penance that he himself failed to complete. He was as demanding of himself as he was of his penitents. And in this way, Pippo embodied the joy that our Lord came to us to complete.

If St. Philip Neri embodies genuine Christian joy, then what does the opposite of Christian joy look like? Thomas tells us that desire and joy are the “ordinate and homogeneous acts” or effects of the virtue of charity. Sorrow is opposed to joy, and sorrow is an effect of the vice sloth. So, what is sloth? Thomas, referring to St John Damascene, writes, “Sloth. . .is an oppressive sorrow, which. . .so weighs upon man's mind, that he wants to do nothing. . .Hence sloth implies a certain weariness of work. . .a 'sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good.'”5 He goes on to argue that sorrow – as an effect of sloth – is always evil because it is an intentional rejection of joy, or a refusal to experience the effects of love, especially divine love. That's the definition. But what does sloth, oppressive sorrow, look like in a person? We are quick in the 21st century to point out that sloth sounds an awful lot like clinical depression. And the two probably share some of the same observable traits. But we would miss the point of defining sloth if we simply shoved it into the clinical category of depression and left it there. Perhaps the difference that makes the difference between the two is that sloth – as a vice – is a bad habit. Not a condition or an illness or a psychic wound. But a bad habit. Sloth is the deliberate rejection of joy, the calculated refusal to allow the effects of love, esp. divine love, to touch the soul. This means that the slothful man has been shown divine love, received it as a gift, benefited from its promises, and yet refuses to exhibit any of its effects on him. In this way, sloth is the bad habit of ingratitude and the added sin of failing to bear witness to the generosity of Christ's gifts. What we normally think of as slothfulness arises out of this spiritual laziness: I can't be bothered to participate in the divine life except as it directly benefits me. The slothful man knows that he is obligated by baptism and his gifted share in the divine life to go out and proclaim the Good News of the Father's freely offered mercy to sinners. He himself as experienced this mercy. Yet! He refuses. That refusal, that bad habit of ingratitude and spiritual stinginess, produces an oppressive sorrow that only compounds and amplifies his sloth. 
Pippo Buono stands against sloth by living joyfully. He bears witness to divine love by acting, speaking, thinking joyfully – all as the direct result of getting and receiving the Lord's mercy for his sins. And lest he become prideful of his spiritual gifts and take too seriously the accolades that cardinals and fishwives are heaping upon him, he dresses like a clown, dances around the streets of Rome, and tells corny Latin jokes in choir. And not only does he do all these silly things out of love, he demands that his penitents and followers do them as well. Why? Because the joy that love demands of us is best expressed in humble acts of apparent foolishness.

Part II

Joe is the sacristan at St Dominic's parish here in NOLA. He's in his late 60's, a very humble, hardworking man who loves the Church and cherishes his job in the sacristy. Joe is also Barber to the Friars. He buzzes Dominican heads all over the city. And he loves it. Joe also has a gift for making this particular friar (me!) feel just a little self-conscious, and that's OK because he does it in a way that perfectly reflects his charity. Every time I see Joe, he says, “Fr Philip! It's always so good to see you! You have the best smile and you always brighten my day! Just being around you makes me feel better about the world! You're the smartest guy I know and I hope those guys at the seminary know how lucky they are to have you!” And he goes on and on in this vein for quite some time, and then he'll pause and say, “But I don't want you to get a big ego, so I'm gonna stop.” All I can do during these moments of praise is smile, nod, thank him, and wait for the inevitable conclusion. Why do these praise-sessions make me self-conscious? Because I know something about me that Joe doesn't: I am not easily given to being joyful nor am I always ready with a smile. In fact, I can be quite cynical and prone to the temptations of despair. Thanks to Augustine and Calvin I make a natural idealist living in a world that will never meet my standards. Thankfully, that's my dark side, and it doesn't win out very often. But this is the Fr. Philip Show not the Dr. Phil Show, so why I am telling you all this? For one simple reason: I chose “Philip Neri” as my religious name not because I am like him, but because I need to be more like him. 
Pippo exuded joy in his silliness. He wore humility like a crown, never taking it off. He was unafraid of being embarrassed; nonplussed by his social and ecclesial Betters. He took formal social events as an opportunity to remind himself and others that we are all going back to dust someday. Pippo understood the need for social order and formality and he respected authority as any good priest would; however, he never allowed any of that to overwhelm his ultimate goal, his final end: union with God. And he never allowed bella figura – good form – to ruin a chance to show sinners God's freely offered mercy. In fact, he wholeheartedly believed that his joyful silliness was the best way to reveal our Lord's mercy to those most in need of it. Pippo's antics made it easier for sinners to approach the throne and receive the gift from his consecrated hands. What he did over and over again is what all priests must be able to do when necessary: he made the Lord directly accessible when he seems to be at the most inaccessible. 
Joy – real joy, the effect of divine love and our charity – makes the Lord accessible to others through us. More specifically, your joy makes the Lord accessible to those whom you serve. And they need the Lord more than you will ever need your self-defined dignity. 
Our people live in this world, but they are not of it. This world demands constant sacrifice, constant praise. It harangues us to pay attention, spend, consume, waste, hurry up, demand, complain, be outraged, and whine. It demands that we do and say whatever it takes to Get Mine and hang on to it into the grave. Our sacrifices to the gods of this world can never be enough because they – the gods – know that they are finite creatures just pretending to be gods. If they ever get their fill of our misery, they will have to confess their finitude and abdicate their altars. So, to perpetuate their reign, they multiply our miseries and await our offerings. Unfortunately, our people will stand in line to make the proper sacrifices and then turn to us and wonder why their lives are a mess. And when they turn to you, hoping to see the Lord and some way out of their misery, who or what do you show them? (Your answer to that question will define your ministry). What do they see when they turn to you? A way into a life of grace? Or just another obstacle to overcome? Do they see a means of achieving freedom in Christ? Or a man too deeply committed to his clerical role to bend down and help? They could also see you as an easy source of cheap grace, or as a mark upon whom they can perpetuate a spiritual fraud. Maybe you're the one who will eagerly tell them what they want to hear, thus relieving them of a cross they choose to carry. Or maybe you will be the priest who agrees with their dissent and gives them permission to sin. 
What will they see when they turn to you? Better yet: what should they see when they turn to you? To answer this question fully would require me to start and finish a lecture series in pastoral theology and practice. I'll leave that burden to Fr. Krafft. Instead, looking over at my patron, Pippo Buono, I'll offer a short answer that requires some unpacking. A priest of Christ – lay or ordained – should always and everywhere appear to those in need as one who embodies and lives out that great Catholic ideal: veritas in caritate. That low groan you just heard came from the seminarians of second theology who are currently enduring my homiletics practicum. Veritas in caritate will populate their nightmares until the Reaper comes for them! Nonetheless, I would argue that this simple phrase – packed as it is with portent – should be engraved and gilded on the doors and walls of every rectory, priory, convent, monastery, and Catholic home on the globe. It contains all things necessary for carrying out one's ministry as a bearer of the Good News. It also has the distinction of being the adage that Pippo Buono lived out in all of his humble silliness. If you want to know why Pippo was so successful as an evangelist in Rome at a time when ecclesial corruption and licentiousness ruled, think: veritas in caritate. 
Earlier I noted Pippo's affinity for the Dominicans of his time. He was especially fond of Savonarola, the friar who ruled Florence and ended his life on a pyre as a heretic. Pippo admired the friar for his skillful preaching and zeal for the conversion of sinners. Savonarola went to deadly extremes in carrying out his program of reform, but Pippo nonetheless saw in him a soul burning with a desire for the truth of the faith to prevail., Pippo took to Savonarola's severity and, along with his knowledge and appreciation for Friar Thomas, tempered both with a practical wisdom that pushed him out into the streets to gather in the Lord's sheep. Without wavering from the truth of the faith, he cared for God's people in whatever way they needed. Because he loved, he clung to the truth. And because he clung to the truth, he loved. In Pippo, there wasn't a sliver of difference between preaching on the damning evils of sin and immediately absolving sinners in confession. When he needed to confront sinners on the street, he did so in way that brought them into the confessional – with genuine love for their souls. He was never above begging for others – food, clothes, jobs. Nor did he place himself below any man because of his station. To Pippo, all men and women were equally sinful and equally forgiven. And all of them deserved the attention of his Lord's servant. 
Embracing the phrase veritas in caritate as your pastoral motto can only lead to one, glorious effect: joy! Charity, as a virtue, produces both desire and joy. Desire and joy are effects of charity. If you preach, teach, and minister veritas in caritate then you will experience and exude the fires of joy, drawing to yourself those who most need to hear the Good News. But there's a significant danger here, one Pippo himself brushed against more than once. With great joy comes great temptation. After Cardinal Cusano had the relics of Papias and Maurus transferred to the Chiesa Nuova in 1590, Pope Gregory XIV tired to sneak a cardinal's biretta onto Pippo's head. Pippo leaned forward and whispered something in the pope's ear, persuading His Holiness to hold off making him a cardinal.6 Pippo endured and resisted many attempts of this kind to elevate him to the episcopate and even popular movements to declare him a living saint. A large part of his antics were meant to dissuade others from seeing him as a man of classical saintliness. The danger here, of course, is pride. At a time in the Church when hierarchy, station, money, and power were the daily currency of Rome, Pippo knew too well how easily it would be for him to be entombed in the layers of silk, brocade, silver, gold, and jewels. He wanted no part of an imperial Church. Whatever work he had left to do would be done as a beggar or a clown. . .not as a Prince of the Church. 
The dangers we face as priests and ministers in the 21st century are not exactly the same, but they rise from the same cardinal sin: pride. Success in ministry – successes like the ones Pippo managed – would draw the attention of the world. And with the world comes applause, prestige, wealth, and even power. How many bishops and priests have we seen in the last fifty years fall because they forgot to embody veritas in caritate? Books, speaking tours, websites, CD's, interviews with the press, requests for comments on current events – all fine in themselves, but also ways for pride to inflate the ego and the ego to become to a god. 
Even if you were to become a god only in your own mind, you would still fall into idolatry. How long would it be before your bishop becomes a meddling fool? Your brother priests jealous clerics? Your parishioners whiny know-it-alls? Looking back on your days at NDS, you would see the deep and cavernous flaws in your professors and formators. Safe to discard all that nonsense now. Because before you would be a wide-open road and clear-blue sky just waiting for you to make your next astonishingly brilliant move. And the only thing holding you back would be the drudgery of daily parish ministry and all those whinging sheep who can't seem to wash themselves more than once a month. You have a career to build! Important people to meet! Important meetings to attend! A golf game at 3 and drinks with the mayor at 5. . .OK. OK. You get my point. I hope. Being a successful spiritual father opens you up to the particular temptations of fame and fortune. So, the truly successful spiritual father never allows himself to forget that he is first and foremost a father. And a father cares for his children by telling them the truth in love. And by making sure that he himself is told the truth in love. Even when that truth stings.

Shifting gears a bit. Jesus says to his disciples, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” What is this? What did Jesus say to his disciples so that his joy may be in them and their joy may be complete? Right before this statement, Jesus was giving his disciples a metaphor for how he sees his relationship with them: the vine and the branches. He is the vine; we are the branches. As long as we remain with him, we will grow and thrive, producing much good fruit. Then he says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” How is his joy given to us and our joy made complete? By bearing much fruit and becoming his disciples. More than that, actually, he adds, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” Then he promises to complete our joy. But what does “complete our joy” mean here? We do all these things and then we find our joy complete. If joy is an effect of divine love, then our completed joy is an effect of completed divine love; that is, perfect divine love. In other words, if we remain in Christ, loving as we ought, bearing much fruit, and following the Father's commands, we will receive the effect of perfect love called perfect joy. We will find ourselves gazing upon the Beatific Vision. 

Pippo knew this well, so he lived his life as if he were always, already in sight of the Beatific Vision. What we might call his silliness was a means to an end: humility. Others saw his humble silliness and rightly identified its source: his joy. And Pippo knew the source and summit of his joy: his love for God and his Christ. In every way that matters, Pippo's ministry to sinners was an expression of his love for Christ and Christ's love for him. Without guile or boasting or weariness, he gave himself – sacrificed himself – to the holy cause of making known to sinners the Father's freely offered mercy. He died May 25, 1595 firmly attached to the vine of Christ.

1 Turks, Paul. Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy. Alba House, 1995, 99.
2 Ibid, 99.
3 ST.II-II.28.4
4 Turks, 13.
5 ST.II-II.35.1
6 Turks, 99.


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