29 September 2006

Angelic ministers

Feast of the Archangels: Revelation 12.7-12 and John 1.47-51
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

Clouds of incense rise and curl around the taller candles, running faster up the flames and spreading in a thin fog around the book and cards. Each homemade card turned brings to mind a color, a scent, a flavor, a task, and each has a name and purpose. Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uzziah…Hebrew names, Latin names, Sumerian names, and other names unsayable. The last card turned was Azareel. Blue. One of the seven angels given dominion over the Earth. Protector of the Waters. Friend to fishermen. My homemade angel cards were telling me that my link to the Divine, my line of communication with The One and All was Azareel.

The first sign from God to me that I probably shouldn’t be spending my time with candles, incense, and homemade angel cards came when, hungry for more info, I did an internet search on Azareel. Most everything I already knew was confirmed—blue, water, fishermen. I was humbled to learn, however, that Azareel is primarily responsible for curing human stupidity. I hear ya, Lord; I hear ya.

To avoid any scandal, let me say quickly: I was not Catholic when I went on this little angelic adventure, and I was very young. I was also smitten, as we all often are, by the possibilities of knowing more about those who live above us, beyond us; those who are in some way like us but better, similar enough to communicate but different enough to show us what we think we want to see but can’t see on our own. Created with a desire for the transcendent coursing through our veins, we stretch for those moments of going beyond, stepping over, those instances of standing at the limits of what we know and can experience and just barely peeking into the darkness, whispering some unsayable word into all that dark longing, hoping for an answer or an echo.

The temptation here, of course, is the temptation of the occult. Not just the usual suspicious nonsense of suburban bookstore potions and spells, but the temptation to learn that which is hidden and then believe that you are somehow graced above others because you have the secret knowledge, the truth of the universe only a few know. This is the Devil dangling pride on a golden chain and stroking your intellect with delicate, well-practiced fingers!

The shield against this temptation, the sure-bet foil for inviting this particular stranger into your spiritual life is the advent proclamation of the angelic voice: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them.”

The Loud Voice of Revelation reveals the strategy of the war against the fallen angels and gives us in the telling our own strategy for combating and defeating the temptations of occult curiosity: he who tempts us to seek and acquire what is not ours to seek and find is defeated, done in. The one who strokes our pride to find answers and echoes in divining the angels or the demons or the cards or the birds or the alphabetic board, he has lost. The angels serve the Lamb. And so will the demons. The angels minister to their Lord and his family. They are servants, messengers, manifest signs of God’s glory. They are not gods.

You will see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man and you will come to know not a carefully guarded secret or a hidden key; you will come to know fully, perfectly what we celebrate in this Mass—his coming in splendor, his arrival in glory, and his eternal reign as Lord and King.

27 September 2006

Rats squeaking at stars

St. Vincent de Paul: 1 Cor 1.26-31 and Matthew 9.35-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory

How do the foolish shame the wise? How do the weak shame the strong? How do those who are nothing reduce to nothing those who are something?

We are art. Made things. Like paintings in color or sculpture in shape and size or music in speech or poetry in both our lyric complexity and sometimes in our doggerel simplicity. Being made things, we have a Maker. Creatures have a creator. And having a Creator means that we have a relationship with something or someone more complete than we are, in fact, fully complete, completely actualized, Pure Act in a gratuitous relationship with our unactualized potential, our still to be perfected gifts. If we know that we are 1) creatures, that is, made, and that 2) we are imperfect but perfectible, then we cannot boast before God. We cannot hold ourselves, haughty and ridiculously puny, before Him Who made us and boast about who we are, what we’ve done, why we did it, and where we are planning on going next.

Mice can roar at the sky and claim to move the clouds, but rodents squeaking at stars are just rodents squeaking at stars.

Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord. Boast in the Lord. Not in power. Not in noble birth. Not in human wisdom. Not in strength. Boast in the Lord’s power, His kingship, His wisdom and His strength. Because “it is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus…” It is His power, wisdom, and strength that gave us righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Nothing you did or can do, nothing I did or can do, and nothing we did together did or can do together will accomplish our redemption or complete our righteousness without our Creator. We are art. Made things. And we are made holy by the One Who made us.

When you brag of your good deeds, when you brag about your academic accomplishments, your athletic prowess, or your artistic genius, when you brag without giving thanks to God, you brag as one whose strength is weakness, whose power is poverty, whose wisdom is foolishness. You brag about empty deeds, pointless accomplishments, useless prowess, and abused genius. You have done nothing. With God, you have done everything!

So, what’s there to brag about but that we are fatally loved, killed in repentance and made new again, made more perfect, by a God who gave us His wisdom in His Son? What’s to brag about but that His Christ looked out over the troubled and abandoned crowd and was moved with pity, touched by compassion for them and gave them for the ages laborers from the master of the harvest? What’s to brag about but that the weak in Christ are stronger than strength, more powerful than power, more regal than any king, wiser than any created wisdom, and loved by God to death and life again and forever?

The foolish shame the wise by praising God for His wisdom. The weak shame the strong by praising God for His strength. Those who are nothing reduce to nothing those who are something by praising God for His creation and for their creaturliness. When we boast w/o praising God for our excellences, we boast like the mice who claim to move the clouds. We are rats squeaking at stars.

25 September 2006

Make no arrogant claims, refuse no one

25th Week OT (M): Proverbs 3.27-34 and Luke 8.16-18
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

What is the best you can offer to the rest of us, to all of us here and to everyone out there? What riches have you piled up? Which of your many talents have you neglected? How much time do you fritter away waiting waiting waiting for something to happen to you, for you, against you—time squandered, unworthily spent, time better offered to us, all of us here and to everyone out there. What is the best you can offer us and what is the best we, the Body of Christ, can offer to the world?

Proverbs says: “Refuse no one the good on which he has a claim when it is in your power to do it for him.” What is the good for us, the best for us? Who has a claim on this good? And when is it in our power to do this good for those who have a claim on it? In the gospel Jesus teaches us that no one lights a lamp only to hide its light. No one does the work of enlightenment, the arduous labor of seeking, finding, and obtaining the truth only to hide it away, to conceal it in a vessel or set it under a bed. The good for us is the light of the gospel truth shining out from us—not hidden but clearly, brightly visible.

And who has a claim on this light, this truth? Anyone who sees it, anyone who needs it. The theological thrust of Paul’s missionary efforts to the Gentiles is that the saving truth of the gospel is universal, feely given to all for all. There is no race, sex, nationality, creed, sexual orientation, political allegiance, martial status, socioeconomic class, or handicap that is excluded from seeking, finding, and obtaining the saving truth of the gospel. To all who have ears, listen. To all who have eyes, see.

When do we have the power to do the good for those who will listen and see? Always. We always have the power to shine the light, to direct its beam and focus its illumination. There is never a moment when we are restrained by any power beyond our own volition from giving the gospel truth to those who need it. Never. True, we often feel constrained. Social pressure not to cause trouble with religious discussions. Embarrassment at some of the scandals in the Church. Reluctance to “impose” your beliefs. Worries that others will think you are a zealot or a nutter. All are anxieties that tempt us to silence when a holy noise is required.

Proverbs says: “Refuse no one the good on which he has a claim when it is in your power to do it for him.” We always have the authority—each of us has the authority—to teach and preach the truth of the gospel to anyone who needs to hear it and is willing to listen. Refuse no one, then, this good. Refuse no one your witness. Refuse no one your generous, charitable work. Refuse no one the ill-kept secret of what we become when we take on Christ and fail and rise and fail and rise. “To anyone who has, more will be given.” Faith exercised in good works, in public witness builds a stronger, more resilient trust. “From the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.” Faith without good works, without witness is empty, it only “seems.” And even this little bit will be taken away.

“Take care, then, how you hear.” Arrogance in your witness to the truth is vanity. A triumphal certainty that one “possesses the truth” is conceit and as such witnesses only to meaner, baser spirits. To the humble does the Lord show kindness. To those who see and hear the gospel truth and offer it freely in humility, these the Lord blesses with clarity, peace, and the fire of the true Spirit.

Refuse no one the light, the love, the help, the comfort, the fire, the passion, the suffering, the death and the new life of Christ in the Spirit. Refuse no one.