12 May 2006

The lie that kills

4th Week of Easter 2006(F): Acts 13.26-33; John 14.1-5
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

Are you, are we lost in a lie that kills?

Jesus tells Peter that he, Peter, will deny him three times. Peter cannot follow Christ nor can Peter lay down his life for Christ. Who and what Christ is for Peter, the disciples, and for us is not yet fully revealed and won’t be fully revealed until tongues of fire lick their souls and they and we are set ablaze with the Holy Spirit and witness the birth of the Church. Peter’s desire to follow is undeniable as is our own. Our deeply-hooked hearts long for the privilege of walking behind our Lord, taking on his teachings, preaching his words and his Word, but, like Peter the desire to follow him, the desire to die for him—no matter how hot, how large in our souls—is not enough. What we must recognize, take in and make part of our very being is the radical assertion made by Christ to his disciples: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

What does Peter deny in the chaos of the garden on the night of Christ’s betrayal? He denies that he knows Jesus. He denies that he is a disciple of the Teacher handed over to Pilate and the Chief Priests. He denies to all who ask that he follows Christ. In every word he speaks and by fleeing the garden, he denies that Christ is his means to the Father; he denies his certainty for salvation, and instead lays claim to death as his Master. Peter denies that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And so, he is lost in a lie that kills.

Are you, are we lost in a lie that kills? This is a dangerous question. Dangerous because it requires us to believe several unpopular truths. First, that there is truth. Second, that we are morally obligated to believe the truth. Third, that the moral obligation to believe the truth and actually doing so will give us life. Fourth, that to fail to believe the truth will lose us in a culture where undifferentiated assertions about truth weigh equally against our conscience and we are told to choose the one prettiest to our eyes.

These truths about the Truth are dangerous to hold and teach because they identify you, pick you out, and label a desire for certainly, clarity, and righteousness—all elements alien to a culture (and some parts of the church!) given over to spiritual and religious indifferentism; a culture that hugs itself to moral wandering and calls it an ethical path; a culture that enshrines relativism and calls it tolerance of difference; a culture that habitually chooses death and calls it choice, or retribution, or defense.

Are you, are we lost in a lie that kills? The way, the truth and the life that is Jesus Christ is the way to the Father, the truth about the Father, and life in the Father. Jesus assures his disciples that he goes before them to prepare the way, he travels on ahead, leading the way. Wanting to walk the way and walking it. Desiring the truth and seeking it out. Yearning for a holy life and living a holy life. Wanting, desiring, yearning…and doing. Different sorts of things. Peter desired Christ powerfully. And denied him easily.

The lie that kills is that there is another way, another truth, another life, something or someone other than Christ who will clear the path for us, assure us in trust, and give us eternal life. There is no other. And you are his witnesses before the people that he has brought you to this fulfillment: that you are found, that you walk the way, and that you have eternal life because you desire it from him and because you live it with him!

10 May 2006

Holy Pyromaniacs!

4th Week of Easter 2006: Acts 12.24-13.5; John 12.44.50
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

[Fair warning: preaching the gospel of John sometimes makes me weird!]

Get comfortable, breath deeply, let go of all fear, guilt, anxiety, thought, and surround yourself with bright, white light. “Run to the Light, Carol Ann! Run to the light!” Focus on your inner child and project a ray of light into the world. Hold hands in a circle, clear your minds, and generate a barrier of brilliant light around Earth. When I died I saw a welcoming, nonjudgmental Light at the end of the tunnel, urging me forward. Lord, give us your Light…small “l” light, capital “L” Light, and “lite,” l-i-t-e.

Sun, moon, stars. Fire, electric bulbs, phosphorus. Exploding gas, erupting volcano, lightning flash. Radiance, illumination, glow. Morning, day, noon. Rescue from Darkness, lamp at midnight, candle against the pitch. All of these are images, words, ideas linked to our primitive need for light, our primordial search for knowing, seeing, figuring things out. We reach for light switches, table lamps, headlights in order to cook, read, drive to work. In seeking out and finding what is lost, we manage it best in the light--distinguishing between this and that, avoiding danger, stepping around obstacles and over limits, seeing edges, relative positions.

Darkness is a vast sameness, an infinite indistinction, an absence of shapes, sizes, limits, edges. To be in darkness is to be without definition, without clarity or contrast. Light, however, shines on reality, brightening what is there, making the stuff of Here and Now visible—height, length, color, identity. To be in the Light is to know definition, clarity, contrast. Darkness is ignorance…light is knowledge.

Jesus concludes his public ministry by declaring rather sharply what has only been hinted at up until now: believe in me and what I have taught and you accept my Father who sent me. Do this and you step into the light of our salvation. Disbelieve in me and what I have taught and you reject my Father who sent me. Do this and you remain in darkness. Come into the light or dwell in darkness. The choice is stark and easy. And it is one we make daily, hourly against the temptations of despairing of God’s mercy, surrendering to the passions, submitting to false teachings; choices against the temptations of setting up idols and altars to our egos, our inordinate desires, our failures to love; choosing against the temptation to blind ourselves to the shapes, sizes, and edges of the truth.

When we believe the Word, we take it in, we plant it, we let it grow—wildly, without fence or tie—we feed it our love and obedience, letting its brightness shine out, radiate through the words of our mouth and the work of our hands to light the way for others. When we believe the Word, it sets us ablaze, urging us to spread the fire. We become Holy Pyromaniacs—crazy for speaking the truth, thirsty for righteousness, hungry for heaven. And possessed by a spirit of holiness that needs for us to speak the Word to the world, to talk about the light of Christ, to make what we do illuminative of his saving work for us.

The Father’s command to us is eternal life. To live in His glory, his splendor. Hear Jesus’ words then, believe them, observe them, and know that you are rescued from the dark.

07 May 2006

Fr. Corbon's quote on deification

In my homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (below) I quote from Fr. Jean Corbon’s book, The Wellspring of Worship (Ignatius Press, 1988). This is one of the most beautiful books available on the Church's understanding of our redemption as deification.

The full quote (i.e. without my editions) follows:

“Following these three pathways of the transfigured icon, we are divinized to the extent that the least impulses of our nature find fulfillment in the communion of the Blessed Trinity We then "live" by the Spirit, in oneness with Christ, for the Father. The only obstacle is possessiveness, the focusing of our persons on the demands of our nature, and this is sin for the quest of self breaks the relation with God. The asceticism that is essential to our divinization and that represents once again a synergy of grace consists in simply but resolutely turning every movement toward possessiveness into an offering. The epiclesis on the altar of the heart must be intense at these moments, so that the Holy Spirit may touch and consume our death and the sin that is death's sting. Entering into the name of Jesus, the Son of God and the Lord who shows mercy to us sinners, means handing over to him our wounded nature, which he does not change by assuming but which he divinizes by putting on. From offertory to epiclesis and from epiclesis to communion the Spirit can then ceaselessly divinize us; our life becomes a eucharist until the icon is completely transformed into him who is the splendor of the Father”(223).

This comes from Chapter Sixteen of the book. A large portion of the chapter is reproduced on the Ignatius Press blogsite here.


Fr. Philip

Are you saved?

4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 4.8-12; 1 John 3.1-2; John 10.11-18
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

Are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior? Do you know Jesus?

As a Catholic, how do you understand your salvation? When we talk about our redemption, what do you hear? If you were asked by a Protestant friend—“Are you saved?”—what would you say? Another (more indirect) way to ask this same question: what are you doing here this morning? Why are you here? Meeting an obligation? Did mama drag you outta bed? Roommates badgered you into showing up? Guilt? Habit? Piety? The need for true worship? The presence of the Risen Lord in the sacrament? Why are you here? Answer me that and you can answer me this: “Are you saved?”

I grew up in rural Mississippi surrounded by bible-believing Baptists—hard-core, heart-felt, deep-down Jesus folks who were assured of their salvation, in the possession of the perfect knowledge of their redemption. There was no doubt, no wavering, not even a passing shadow of uncertainty that Jesus is Lord. Their personal encounter with Christ defines who they are and who they will become: upright, moral people, righteous, God-fearing and heaven-bound. Salvation for them is a picture painted with bright lines, pure colors, perfectly framed. And it hangs in the center of their lives.

Do you as a Catholic understand what it means to be in a redeeming relationship with the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit?

Peter in Acts, John in his letter and his gospel this morning point us unswervingly to the conclusion that for us to be saved in Christ we must become Christ; we share in his passion, death, and resurrection. There is no other name under heaven given to us by which we can saved. We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed, but we do know that when what we will be is revealed we shall be like him. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” I will lay down my life for my sheep. I can lay down my life and pick it up again. And he can pick us up with him. Brothers and sisters, see what love the father has bestowed on us—He became man so that we might become God!

Are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior? Why are you here this morning? I hope you are here this morning to confess your sins and hear God’s mercy; to listen to the Word proclaimed and preached; to offer praise and thanksgiving to God; to say again with us “I believe in One God, the Father Almighty;” to ask for what you need and to ask for others what they need; to place yourself—your worries, your loves, your resentments, jealousies, your impatience, yourself—all of you, placed on the altar with the bread and wine to be offered to God, sacrificed, made holy in surrender.

I hope you are here this morning to say AMEN to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, to his suffering, death, and resurrection; to this moment of eternity brought down for us to draw us back up, to catch us up in his glory—body, soul, divinity—to make us his children, his heirs.

I hope you are here this morning to eat his body and drink his blood, to take into your bodies his very person, to reap the harvest of his gift of himself to us, for us. And I hope you are here this morning to learn, to come to know that your salvation, your redemption is accomplished in this sacrifice of the altar, this liturgy of deification. We are not acting out a play here. We are not mumbling a script or miming a drama. We are not here to “git ‘r done” in time for lunch. We are here to cooperate in the redemption of our bodies and our souls! What we do here this morning is the public work of making us all Christs, the work of our Triune God in transforming us, perfecting us, making us like Him.

The great Dominican theologian, Fr. Jean Corbon, writes of our redemption in the Mass: “From offertory to [the moment the priest calls down the Spirit] and from [that moment] to communion the Spirit can then ceaselessly divinize us; our life becomes a Eucharist until the [image of God that we are] is completely transformed into him who is the splendor of the Father.” Perfectly said!

For Catholics, to be redeemed is not to be “holistically integrated as a person,” if by this we mean nothing more than to be made psychologically balanced. Jesus did not die on the cross and rise again to clear up a DSM-IV diagnosis. For Catholics, to be redeemed is not to be “made one with Earth.” All of creation will be redeemed in time, but Jesus did not die on the cross and rise again to show us the way to Gaia, Earth Mother. For Catholics, to be redeemed is not to be “absorbed into the Universal Oneness.” Jesus did not die on the cross and rise again so that we might be dissolved into stardust and spend eternity dodging gravity wells and rouge comets. For Catholics, to be redeemed is not to be “liberated from oppressive hierarchies and socio-economic structures of exclusion.” Jesus did not die on the cross and rise again to spark an elitist social revolution that worships the totalitarianism of political correctness and moral anarchy.

For Catholics, to be redeemed is to be made a child of the Father through the freely made sacrifice of the Son in the love of the Holy Spirit. To be redeemed is to be repaired, to be rescued, to be healed. We are found by our shepherd. Beloved as children; raised from the dead by the Only Name given to us for our salvation. To be redeemed is to be brought to Him as an offering, a sacrifice; made holy, perfected in His image and likeness. To be redeemed is to be transformed into Christ through Christ.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God!

The proper response, the only response worthy of this gift is to live your life in sacrificial thanksgiving—giving thanks to God by serving all His children in charity, by taking His Word to the world in hope, by offering to Him the course and plan of your life in faith; loving, hoping, trusting; knowing that our Father gives us an inheritance, an eternal estate.

Are you saved? Yes, every time you celebrate this liturgy. Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior? Yes, and even better: you’ve eaten his Body and Blood! Do you know Jesus? You know him and he knows you. He is the Good Shepherd and you are his brothers and sisters.

Now, having cleared all that up, it’s time for the really tough question: watching you, listening to you, do the people who see you everyday, do they you know you as Christ?