03 December 2005

The infinitives of the Dominican Order...

St. Francis Xavier: I Cor 9.16-19, 22-23; Mark 16.15-20
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Laudare! Benedicere! Praedicare! To praise, to bless, to preach. The infinitives of the Dominican Order! To offer grateful homage to God, to proclaim as holy, to speak the Word—the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. And the Word abiding in our hearts, pulling and pushing to be freed, gnawing at the bit for leave to run wild. That founding desire to find Christ, to offer him blessing and praise, and to witness for him by speaking his Word, that desire is the beat of our souls, the music that moves us through a day and day-to-day to the end. It is the desire, soaked through muscle and skin and hair and bone at our creation, the desire to live right now in his spirit and to live forever with him in the final vision of Beauty Himself. What gives us life, what animates us, sparks us to being grateful creatures of an abounding Father is the bursting want of Him, His Word, and the privilege of speaking that Word in witness!

Before he left his students and after, Jesus ordered those who followed him to move away from the familiar, the comfortable, and the predictable and to move toward the alien, the discomforting, and the wild. He said to them over and over again that preaching and teaching his Good News to the ravening wolves of this world would mean pain, isolation, and persecution. Never once did he promise them adulation or fame. Ridicule and infamy, yes, but never popularity or celebrity.

Why? The Good News offers an austere choice. Jesus says to his disciples: “Whoever believes [the Gospel] and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” This stark dichotomy between eternal life and eternal condemnation strikes the postmodern ear as hateful exclusion, a limitation on our options, and deadly to expanding possibilities. And our postmodern ears are hearing exactly right. The black line distinction that Jesus draws between believing his Good News and dismissing it is exactly the distinction between living our lives as the Word and living our lives as the Lie.

We take on new life in the Word at baptism. We are confirmed in that life by the Spirit. And we approach the altar of sacrifice to eat His body and drink His blood, to consume the Word so that we will be brought to perfection as the Word. To believe this and to preach it in our lives day-to-day is to live right now the promise of the coming kingdom. To believe and preach, as students of the Lord, anything else is to live right now the promise of condemnation, to accept the Lie and to die as slaves to the enemy forever.

If this seems too much, too hard that’s because it is. Preaching the Good News is not for the fluttering heart or the pallid soul left alone. Jesus knew his students. And he knows us. He promised them and he promises us the contempt of the worldly wise. So what? He also promised to place on our tongues the words of truth to be spoken for his witness, to work in us and through us to show the gospel to anyone who will hear, anyone who will see. So, even a fluttering heart can speak the Word. Even the pallid soul can witness to the Gospel.

Great signs will point the way to Christ’s offer of universal salvation. Be a great sign of his offer. You cannot be a great sign using self-righteous judgment or persnickety legalism or private revelation. Why? We do not own the gospel; we are owned. It is his Word we praise, his Word we bless, and his Word we preach.

Laudare! Benedicere! Praedicare!

02 December 2005


1st Week of Advent (Fri): Is 29.17-24; Matt 9.27-31
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

The PR department at Jesus, Inc., a subsidiary of Pepsi-Co/Time-Warner, is very upset with the current CEO, Jesus Christ. He recently went on a publicity tour to promote his latest book, The Gospel, and performed a miraculous healing on two blind men who were waiting in line to touch his garment. After healing the men, according to their faith, Jesus reportedly said to the men, “See that no one knows about this.” The PR department at Jesus, Inc. found out about the miracles when the two recently healed blind men gave an interview to FOXNews and signed a book contract with Simon & Schuster. When asked about the miracle, Jesus said, “I have no comment at this time. We’ll have a prepared statement at the end of business today.” The blind men cited a gag clause in their book contract. Eye-witness accounts are too wild to be believed. Local scientists dismiss the miracles as mass-hypnosis. The ACLU is suing somebody for something.

It is extraordinarily odd that Jesus would tell the healed men to keep quiet about their healing. It seems odd because we live in a publicity soaked culture where everyday occurrences are turned into Events, complete with combative commentary, rote social analysis, and the predictably provocative questions designed to create news rather than report it. That Jesus would heal two blind men and tell them sternly to shut-up about it is just weird. Of course, they should crow about it! They should dance in the streets! Go tell it on the mountains! Do interviews! Write books! And, they do. They disobey Jesus and spread his gospel.

So, why would Jesus order them to silence? The story of the healed blind men is the middle story of three stories of healing. Jesus heals the woman with the chronic hemorrhaging, the blind men, and man made mute by a demon. The news of his power and compassion spread and the crowds grew larger and larger. Looking at the all the work to be done, Jesus orders his disciples to pray for more laborers for the Lord’s harvest. You can imagine that Jesus ordered the blind men to silence because the work of caring for the growing crowds was daunting, exhausting. But that’s not it.

That this reading from Matthew comes to us during Advent is no accident. It exemplifies for us what Advent is to be: a time of tension between need and fulfillment, emptiness and satisfaction. We celebrate and endure Advent, waiting on an edge with our dis-ease for the healing of the coming of the Lord. The Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, writes: “The creature is a perpetual question addressed to God.” During Advent the human creature lives in a twilight time before the divine falls into flesh, asking of the Lord, “Son of David, have pity on us!” The order to a seasonal silence before the celebration of the Incarnation is the Church’s way of living out our nature as a question to God; we ask and wait, we plead and anticipate.

This time of dawning light is also a time for Jesus to look at us and ask, “Do you believe that I can do this?” Do you trust me to take on your flesh, your suffering, your sin, your death? Do you trust that I will freely accept human form, living as man among you, and die for your healing? We say, “Yes, Lord!” The time between the time we say yes to the Lord and Jesus says, “Let it be done according to your faith” is the deepest silence, the longest season; it is the yawning stop of Advent, the slow tick-tick-tick-tick-tick of life lived waiting on the coming of the Lord.

27 November 2005

Waiting and waiting well...

First Sunday of Advent (2005): Is 63.16-17, 64.2-7; I Cor 1.3-9; Mark 13.33-37
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

The priory coffeemaker is insufferably slow. I have to use the single-cup, express machine. I can recite just about the entire creed waiting for the doors of the priory elevator to open and close. Pushing that little “close door” button makes me feel in control, but I don’t think it’s connected to anything. And I’ve discovered a new species of humanoid living in Irving: we’ve had homo erectus, homo sapiens, and now we have homo cellus phonus—a species of humanoid incapable of driving a car w/o a cell phone stuck to its ear. A habit that apparently robs the poor creatures of colored sight. They seem incapable of recognizing red from yellow from green at traffic lights. Yes, Father has Patience Issues. I bet you do too.

So, let me ask you this question: do you wait well? I mean, are you able to pause in your day and give control of your time to something or someone else? A machine (the reluctant computer, the lazy coffeemaker, the elevator in no hurry at all) or a person (the cashier discussing his break time with a coworker, the SUV driver chatting on the cell phone stopped at the green light)? Can you hold your yourself in suspension, just stop and let something or someone else’s agenda, their needs, their wants, their time take precedence? Because that’s what waiting is. Waiting is what I (we do) do when I bring myself to acknowledge that my agenda, my needs, my wants, my time are subject to change, subject to the whims and quirks of other people, the random workings of machines, the weather, and the markets. Pretty much any and everything out there that can run interference on my plans does so, and so I wait, giving over to the hard fact that I am subject to other people, other things.

That we wait is a given. The only question is: how well do we wait? Waiting well is what we are given the chance to do during Advent. And we start in earnest today.

Just in case any of us holds the opinion that Advent is a season of joy, a pre-season of cheeriness gearing up for the Real Cheer of Christmas, we have on this First Sunday of Advent a sobering reminder of exactly what Advent is. From Isaiah we have this confession: we are sinful, an unclean people, even our good deeds are like polluted rags; we are dried up like autumnal leaves, and our guilt carries us away like a wind! Yes, Advent is all about confessing ours sins, turning back to God, asking for forgiveness, and waiting, waiting, waiting on the arrival of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Advent is penitential.

It is winter’s Lent. And it is a season for us to live Isaiah’s confession: “O Lord, we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” If Advent is going to be a season of good spiritual fruit, if we are to claim and name our sin, turn away from disobedience, and beg forgiveness from God, then we must bring fresh to our hearts and minds the wisdom of Isaiah’s confession: we are made from the stuff of the Earth, breathed into life by the divine breath, shaped, and given purpose by a God Who looks upon us as works of art, creations to be loved and saved and brought back to Him unblemished, whole. This is our short time before celebrating the coming of our salvation for us to prepare ourselves to be found lacking, needful, and humble before the Lord.

Starting here, we wait. Yes, we wait. And if we are to wait well, we wait on a blade’s edge—the thin slit between repairing and giving thanks, confessing and praising, wailing and rejoicing. There is a still, quiet eagerness, a sharp keenness to this season. It demands of us a stiff attention to who we are as fallen creatures and who we can be as children of God. It demands of us an exercise of patience and a hurrying to be done, the practice of serene persistence and a rushing to finish. Our violet season burdens us with a provocation to know ourselves completely, to know ourselves as we are, and to bring that knowledge to the Lord as a gift, an offering of sacrifice for his sacrifice for us.

We wait. And we watch b/c Jesus urges his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert!” But this is not an order to sit quietly, looking to the East, waiting to be found. We are to be busy with seeking the Lord in prayer, in praise and thanksgiving, and in the good works of mercy and compassion for one another. Jesus is not ordering his disciples to complacency, to quietism. He is ordering them to alertness, to strict attention to the source and summit, the root and height of their mission as those sent to preach and teach the gospel. They are to be working slavishly for the good of their Master’s kingdom while he is gone, laboring furiously to produce a good harvest to celebrate his return. They watch b/c they know he will return, he will fulfill his promise to come back to them, bringing with him their reward for faithful service and strict attention.

And so we wait. But do we wait well? Waiting is how we give to one another some measure of control, some small piece of power over us in order to admit that we are twined inextricably with those who live beside us. I know men and women who strain their lives to the edge of sanity to avoid admitting to themselves or anyone else that they need others or are needed by others. Their false self-sufficiency poisons everything they do, everything they are, and they slowly disappear into the myth of individualism, shrink into ghosts who haunt the community with their hunger for attention but will not yield even the smallest moment of control, the meanest instance of isolation and pride. They cannot wait well on the Lord b/c they cannot live lives of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and praise.

To confess, to repent, to forgive, and to praise are all moments in the divine life that clearly speak the reality of our total dependence on God and express our willingness to work with His other children in the kingdom for His greater glory. Our Advent season is that time of the Church year when we are given the chance to pay strict attention to who we are as fallen creatures and who we can be as children of the Father. It is a time for us to wait well on the Lord—to give him control, to give him lordship of our lives, to rule and reign as Lover of our hearts, Master of our souls, and God of everything we have and everything we are.

This next week, walk with strict attention the line between reparation and thanksgiving, between confession and praise, between wailing and rejoicing. And wait watchful for the coming of the Lord. Let him find you in need of his salvation, ready to be forgiven in repentance, and impatient to offer him thanks.