11 August 2006

Accept the loss of all things

St. Clare: Philippians 3.8-14 and Matthew 19.27-29
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

There is so much that pins us to this life. So much that grabs at our ankles and drag us back to love the temporary: the fleeting moments, the impermanent things. Chained to these things by a confused and confusing love for the immediate relief of desire, we can fail to look past what merely helps us survive in this world and fail to see the world of the eternal: the enduring moment, the permanent life of glory with God. So Jesus tells his disciples: “Everyone who has given up [everything] for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.” Anyone who puts Him first, makes Him central, gives to Him the highest place of honor in their lives, and comes to understand that everything they do, say, think, pray, and feel, that everything they are is given purpose and power in His name—they, all of them, will look past the temporary into the eternal and see the face of God.

We must be careful though! We are tempted here to think of the world as a place of dark doing’s, a place of temptation and corruption. We might come to think that to be the best Catholics we must deny our bodies, despise the flesh, punish sin, constantly weep for God’s mercy, and find the Devil hiding in every human heart. Though surely there are times to deny the body and weep for God’s mercy, we are new creatures remade for joy and rejoicing! Of course, the human world can be dark, tempting, and corrupting, but it is also revealing of holiness. Like us, the world is not simply fallen—it is redeemed for a purpose.

Created by God for our prudent use, the world is not a prison nor is it a trap for our dirty bodies and ugly passions. All creation reveals the workings of the Blessed Trinity, shows us incompletely bright flashes of the divine, revealing God’s company among us. But the creature is not and can never be the Creator and we must never fail to understand that nothing here, nothing created can ever relieve the relentless hunger for God, the nagging need for the waters of the Holy Spirit.

Paul writes to the Philippians: “I consider everything as a loss b/c of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things, and I consider them so much rubbish…” And b/c he has made Christ the center of his life, he has come to righteousness, a relationship with God that can only come through faith in Christ, that is, by trusting Jesus first among the people, things, and ideas of this world.

Ask yourselves: what do I trust more than God? Who do I trust more than God? What causes me anxiety? What do I cling to for security, for safety? My money, my house, my identity, my politics, my theology, my piety? What would it mean for me to lose everything? Think of Paul and ask: could I consider everything lost b/c of Christ so much rubbish? Am I prepared to share his sufferings? Conform my life to his righteousness? Can I forget what lies behind, strain forward to what lies ahead, and pursue the goal of obeying God’s upward calling?

We are chained to the passing and blind to the eternal only b/c we chose to be. There are no chains and our blindness is long healed.

09 August 2006

The Canaanite Woman: Agent of Change?

18th Week OT: Jeremiah 31.1-7 and Matthew 15.21-28
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Is the Canaanite woman a revolutionary? A paradigm-breaking agent for radical change in the Church? Yes, I believe she is.

Walking along with his disciples, Jesus is confronted by this Gentile, this unclean woman who pleads for his attention and his help with her demon possessed daughter. The disciples, annoyed by the interruption and likely frightened by the prospect of becoming unclean themselves, beg Jesus to dismiss her, to put her in her place by sending her away. Jesus speaks to the woman, telling her exactly what the disciples expect him to say, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” You can almost see Jesus cocking his eye toward his students, watching for their predictable reaction to his expected rebuke of the woman’s insolence. Undeterred, the woman simply pleads for help—a raw outpouring of humility and need, of despair and want: “Lord, help me.”

For some this passage is about the man Jesus being confronted by his cultural and social limitations: the woman teaches Jesus a lesson—her professed need and desperate faith changes his mind about his mission; or it is about Jesus challenging the social structures of the Jewish culture, “crossing boundaries” and “engaging difference” in order to show his disciples that the gospel is really about radical inclusivity and acceptance.

It is not surprising that this passage read in this way was used to defend the “ordinations” of twelve women on a boat in Pennsylvania: if the Canaanite woman could open Jesus’ mind to be more inclusive of difference, then surely the Church can change its mind about ordaining women to the priesthood!

So, is the Canaanite woman an agent of change? A paradigm-breaking revolutionary? Yes, she is. But not in the way the standard feminist interpretation wants us to buy.

A mother with a demon possessed daughter, the woman pleads with Jesus for his help: “Lord, help me.” Jesus, again with an eye on his disciples, predictably replies that the children’s food is not for the dogs, that is, the gospel is for the Jews not the Gentiles. And the woman—desperate and determined—retorts: “Even the dogs get the scrapes from the table.” Now, at this point Jesus could rebuke her for daring to tell him his business, sending her away as the disciples wished. But instead he decides to show this despairing mother the fruit of her trust in him: “O woman, great is your faith!” And her daughter was healed.

The Canaanite woman is a exemplar of radical change, a paradigm-breaker precisely b/c she has faith in Jesus; she trusts that he is who he says he is; and she is willing to submit humbly to his authority as Lord. Her open confession of faith—in fact, her preaching of the Word!—stands as a witness for the disciples about who Jesus is and what it is that they have been charged with doing: publicly proclaiming that Jesus is Lord—openly confessing a great faith in a powerful King and compassionate Father.

She shows the disciples that in faith the dogs can become the children of the Lord.