06 October 2006

If they listen, what do they hear?

26th Week OT(F): Job 38.1, 12-21, 40.3-5 and Luke 10.13-16
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass and Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

(NB. The preacher preaches to himself first…)

Job stands before the whirlwind and requires answers of Being Himself. He whines to the Voice who speaks the Word that snaps everything there is out of the void. He demands that I AM THAT I AM justify his suffering. And though Job suffers most immediately in his body, the true insult is to his ego, his sense of self-righteous Self. No prideful creature wants to hear the story of its proper place in the universe. What self-important Self actually wants to know where it fits in the scheme of things? Oh sure, there’s a place, but this place is a Place of My Choosing, My Plan, My Way. And the Plan unfolds according to My Timetable at the pace and intensity of My Will. I am the Master of My Circumstance! I rule My World! As I see all of creation from My Viewpoint, I am the Center of All There Is.

And God addressed Job: have you ever in your life lifted the sun over the horizon? Have you ever brought the dawn to the sky? Have you ever shaken the world to shock the wicked? Have you touched the mouth of the seas? Strolled along the abyss? Seen the gates of death, the dwelling place of darkness itself? “Where were you, Job, when I laid the foundations of the earth?” You were born before there was light and darkness, right? You were born before the boundaries of all things were made, right? You have so many years of wisdom! “Answer me, if you have understanding.” Job answers: “I will put my hand over my mouth. Though I have spoken once. I will not do so again.”

Jesus tells the Seventy that whoever will listen to them, listens to him. And whoever rejects them, rejects him. And whoever rejects him, rejects the Father, the One Who sent him. Question: those who listen to you, watch you, live with you, work with you—what do they hear you saying, see you doing? I don’t mean to make you paranoid. But you are listened to. You are watched. Daily you swirl around with others, mingle and flow and you leave an impression, an image to remember and consider. You say this and that, do this and that. And you do not say and you do not do. We all do and do not. Those who listen to you, watch you, what do they hear? What do they see?

Do they see a well-loved creature well-seasoned in humility? A man, a woman upright in the Lord, directed to His will, driven by His passion for justice, intent on righteousness in Him? Or do they see and hear insufferable whining? Self-important grief? Do they hear the great sucking sound of the universe being re-centered on your needs, your pleasures, your prerogatives? Do they see service? Good will? Mercy in militant practice? Can they obey—listen with intent—to your truly holy deeds. Not those pious, theatrical deeds—the street corner hijinks that draw cameras and kudos from religious tourists, but truly, deeply charitable works done in His name.

God’s address to Job and to us is not about making Job and us feel like dirt. Feel like puppies who have piddled on the new rug. God is not in the business of humiliating us. He is in the business, however, of telling us the truth about Who He is and who we are in relationship with Him. The truth is this: we were not there at the foundation of the world. We did not name the stars or swirl the cosmic gases or swat the comets into their paths. We did not raise ourselves from dust and breath the living word into our own bodies. We are wholly, totally, completely, down to the last atom, the most basic element, without reservation, entirely His. And if we will speak His Word and Do His Deeds, then we must, must! say with Job as he stands before the creating whirlwind: “Though I have spoken once, I will not do so again…unless it is to praise you, Lord, and to speak your holy name to all who will listen.”

04 October 2006

You are marked!

St. Francis of Assisi: Galatians 6.14-18 and Matthew 11.25-30
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

I. Do not boast but praise God and come to Christ. Paul prays that he may never boast in his own deeds. He has done nothing worthy on his own, nothing deserving credit or praise without the cross. The world he evangelizes is crucified. Sacrificed and given up for holy. And he is crucified for the world. Himself set aside for a single work and marked not by circumcision but by the wounds of Christ on his body and thus made a New Creation in the loving surrender of Jesus on the cross. What is there for Paul to boast about? Will he boast about his turning from sin? Will he boast about his grand commission to preach to the Gentiles? Will he boast about the miles he has traveled or the crowds he has exhorted? Will he boast of his wounds? No. He was turned from sin. He was given his commission. Christ walked those miles and Paul followed. The crowds belonged to Jesus from the start. And the wounds are his as well. So is the victory and ours if we will not boast.

II. Do not boast but praise God and come to Christ. Jesus gives praise to his Father for revealing to His little ones the wisdom of salvation, for revealing to those who are not wise in the world or learned in the flesh what it means to be of the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus gives praise to his Father for His gracious will, His will that only those truly trusting, truly faithful—not planners or schemers or jostlers for power and position—only those who look to Christ with opened eyes and opened ears may know the Father’s wisdom. And that wisdom is this: All things have been handed over to Christ by His Father and we come to know the Father through Christ b/c Christ wishes to reveal Him to us. Why is this praiseworthy? Why offer an orthodox shout—a yelp of right praise—for this wisdom? What is there better to praise than the gift of knowing and loving God? What is there better to praise than the grace of Christ’s revelation of his Father? What is there better to praise than the presence of God among us as Man, attending to our wounds in sin, healing the breaks and tears and cuts of self-inflicted disobedience? Praise God! Lord of heaven and earth!

III. Do not boast but praise God and come to Christ. Jesus asks us to come to him. To drop the pretense. Drop the haughty posturing and ridiculous anxiety. Throw down the excesses of Self that burden your spirit—that small self that strains to hold up the prestigious job, the pretty degrees, the grand SAT score, the grand GRE or LSAT or MCAT score, the perfect GPA, the best job offer, the right car, the fear of failure, the worry of getting it wrong, the pressure to marry or not. Throw off the expectations of the world, the world that will make you into a pinched and nervous adult, anxious about everything that cannot matter and carefree about the one thing that does: Christ! Go to him. Take him on as your teacher. Let him show you the fertile field in front of you. And he will take you in hand and give you rest. There is no point in being a Christian if we stubbornly refuse to follow Christ, demanding our own way from God. Demand nothing. You are marked! So, do not boast. But praise God for His wisdom. And come to Christ.

01 October 2006

Avoid the worms and quench the fire!

26th Sunday OT: Num 11.25-29; James 5.1-6; Mark 9.38-43, 45, 47-48
Respect Life Sunday
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irivng, TX

Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that all the people of the Lord were lions with angel wings to fly instead of walk! Would that all the people of the Lord grow trees with golden leaves and flowers with diamond blossoms! Would that all the people of the Lord had free utility hookups to the Guinness brewery and the chocolate factory! Would that all the people of the Lord were born beautiful, talented, intellectually gifted, filthy rich, and flawlessly generous. And would that all the people of the Lord find perfect peace, lasting happiness, and reciprocated love before dying gloriously defending the faith in a pitched battle against the heretical armies of poststructuralist critics, scientistic historians, indifferentist ethicists, and all the elite nastinesses of syncretistic theologians, modernist theorists, and snotty cultural savants. How glorious a battle that would be!

Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets. Not a good idea, Moses. Sorry. All that prophesying, all that divine madness and noise and rattling on about God’s will and God’s word and What the Lord Would Have Us Do…blahblahblah. No. Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on all His people! Again, sorry. No. All that spirit floating around settling on folks would be chaotic. Too dangerous, of course. Very messy that. No procedure. No policies. No paperwork. Bestowing spirit like throwing confetti on a Labor Day parade in New York City. Sounds kinda communist. Wishful thinking. Cry in one hand and wish in the other—see which one gets filled first. Joshua has the right of it, Moses, “Stop them, my Lord, stop them from prophesying without the proper credentials!”

And Jesus said to John, “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” In what might be called a rather generous inclusivity, Jesus throws his own prophetic mantle around the shoulders of all those who do mighty deeds in his name. Careful. He recognizes the authority of those who perform mighty deeds in his name b/c for them to do so is an act of conversion to his cause. He’s not saying here that just anyone who claims to do mighty deeds in his name is doing them with his authority. What he’s saying is, “The fact that this guy does a mighty work in my name will guarantee that he is unable afterward to speak ill of me.” In other words, if some guy is pretending to perform an exorcism or a healing in Jesus’ name and is (surprise!) successful, that success will make it impossible for him to oppose Christ b/c such a mighty work can only be successfully done in his name. Not against me? Must be for me.

Joshua and John seem to have a legit worry. What will happen if just anyone who wants to can prophesy or exorcise demons or heal the sick? Joshua and John are worried about the reputations of their masters. They are worried about division—literally, schism, resulting from divided loyalties among those who might claim to do mighty deeds but who really just want to foment discord or rally opposition to established authority. Moses knows that the Lord has rested His spirit on the elders who missed the tent meeting. And Jesus knows that no one can work a deed as mighty as exorcising demons unless they are doing so properly in his name. Moses eases Joshua’s anxiety by praying that the Lord would make all His people prophets, that the Lord would send His spirit on all His people. Jesus eases John’s worry by assuring him that no one who works in his name can be against him and must therefore be for him. Jesus knows that his arrival as the Christ among the people heralds the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Lord’s sending of His Spirit in answer to Moses’ prayer: would that all the people of the Lord were prophets.

The Lord bestows His spirit on all of His people! All of His people are prophets! No wishing thinking here. No lions with wings. No golden trees or dreamy LOTR martyrdom fighting against the armies of darkness. By baptism we are prophets. By the sacraments of initiation into the Body of Christ, we are made into prophets, priests, and kings—those upon whom the Spirit rests—and we are given authority to do mighty works in Christ’s name. This is not an invitation to radical ecclesial innovation or convenient schism. This is not an open door to personality cults or whackoes claiming mystical powers. This is not permission from the church to engage in wild displays of spiritual powers. What it is is a clarion call to you, all of you and each of you, to take on the mantle of your baptism and to be a prophet in Christ’s name. To be one upon whom the Spirit rests. To claim your proper authority as one who does mighty deeds in his name, as one who speaks his mighty word to those who need to hear.

Do these works in his name for his glory and you cannot be against him. Do these works for applause, for personal gain, for power, control, or for pietistic theatre; do them against his Body, the Church, the little ones who believe in him, and find yourself gutted by hell’s immortal worms and roasting in eternity’s trash heap. Find yourself wishing for a millstone necklace and deep blue sea.

How will you prophesy in the Lord’s name? What mighty works will you do in his name for his glory? You see, if your life is a sacrificial outpouring of charity, of mercy, of love to your neighbors, you do mighty works; you speak a mighty word. If your life bursts at the seams with the gifts well-used, treasures easily shared, talents on godly display, then you do mighty works and speak mighty words in his name. If, however, you store up your wealth against the danger of a last day; if you greedily hoard the gifts the Lord has given you to disburse freely; if you withhold from the Lord’s little ones your generosity and forgiveness or waste your treasured time sitting in judgment of those you have no right to judge, then “you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.” Check fat heart-eating worms. Check unquenchable fire for roasting.

To live a prophetic life in Christ is to live a life of rebellion, a life in revolt against the dictates of this culture’s deadening, soulless ideologies: all the ways the world strives to turn the human person into useful labor or genetic produce or cosmic accident or just plain ole meat. To live a prophetic life in Christ is to live a life of violation, a life of disobedience to this world’s spiritual discouragement, public ridicule, material temptation, and religious and political violence. To live a prophetic life in Christ is to live a life of infection, to spread the deadly virus of daring and saintly deeds, to spread the bellicose bugs of holiness and righteous awe. To live a prophetic life in Christ is to live your life soaked through and deeply planted, heavily swathed and tightly wrapped, beautifully adorned and righteously arranged all in the Lord’s name! All for his glory!

Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on all His people! He has! He has. Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! We are! We are. Now. Prophesy and shake the foundation of the world.

Can you be a prophet?

26th Sunday OT: Num 11.25-29; James 5.1-6; Mark 9.38-43, 45, 47-48
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Andrew Kim High School Student Retreat, October 1, 2006

Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!

Two men not of Moses’ group received the spirit of the Lord and began to prophesy in the camp. A young man jealous for Moses’ sake runs to tattle on them. Joshua, an old friend of Moses said, “Moses, my lord, stop them.” What is this guy worried about? He’s concerned that Moses will be dishonored by the men who prophesy w/o Moses’ authority. He is worried that there will be divisions in the camp. One side for Moses and another against him. He is worried that these prophets will lead the people astray. And he is anxious for his friend, Moses, and his reputation. What Joshua doesn’t understand is that the spirit of the Lord rested on these men as well and made them prophets. Moses comforts Joshua by saying, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”

You see, Moses understands that the Lord will rest His spirit where he pleases. On me, on you, on all of us if He chooses. And he will make us all prophets if he likes. He will give us the job of prophesying, the job of telling everyone of His great deeds and His loving words. Though we have rules and job descriptions and policies and requirements, the Lord doesn’t. He will send His spirit as He pleases.

So here’s my question to you: can you be a prophet? Can you go and tell everyone the great deeds of the Lord, proclaim to everyone His loving words? What does it take to be a prophet? Well, it seems that you have to be really old. Lots of wrinkles, lots of gray hair, maybe a pair of glasses and a hearing aid. Moses’ seventy prophets were elders, old guys who knew a lot b/c they had lived a lot. It also seems that you have to be a guy. The elders were all men. So maybe the spirit of the Lord will rest only on old men. You have to be old and male. What else? The big one, of course: you are not a prophet unless the spirit of the Lord comes to rest on you. Can you be a prophet?

Let’s look again at the story from this morning’s gospel in Mark. It’s almost exactly like the story of Moses and the young man, isn’t it? John finds out that there are people out there casting out demons in Jesus’ name—people not of Jesus’ group! John tells Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Just like the young man in the first story, John tattles to his teacher that someone not of their group is doing something that only members of their group should be doing! Jesus says basically the same thing that Moses said, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus is saying here that you don’t have to be a member of his small group of disciples to be on his side. Anyone who does a mighty deed in his name is on his side!

So, can you be a prophet? Remember now: only old men who have the spirit of the Lord on them can be prophets, right? WRONG! Jesus is clear: anyone who does a mighty deed in his name is on his side! And what do prophets do but do mighty deeds in the Lord’s name. The job of the prophet is to tell everyone of the Lord’s great deeds and His loving words. The Lord brought Moses and his people out of slavery in Egypt. He destroyed the armies that chased them. He guided them though the desert. Gave them food and water when they had none. And brought them to the Promised Land. Great deeds! And he made a covenant with them: you be my people and I will be your God. Loving words!

Our Lord Jesus does all of this again for us, for everyone in this room. He brings us out of our slavery to sin. He destroys the power of the Enemy over us. He guides us through our deserts, all of our dry and troubled times. He gives us food and drink, his Body and Blood in the Mass. He brings us to the Promised Land of heaven. Great deeds! And he makes a New Covenant with us: I will die for you so that you don’t have to die; love me, love one another, teach and preach what I have taught you.

Be prophets! Tell everyone of the Lord great deeds and loving words. Learn your faith as best you can and tell the truth to anyone who will listen. Learn you faith as best you can and make sure that the way you live your life is an excellent example to others. Do not cause someone to fail in their faith b/c of your sin. Be careful! Jesus tells his disciples: “Whoever cause one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” What does he mean? He means that we should never lead anyone into sin, we should never be an example of sin for others, we should never cause damage to anyone else’s faith. If we do, it would be better for us if we had a giant stone hung around our necks and then tossed into the ocean to sink.

Your job as a prophet, as one on whom the spirit of the Lord has rested, your job is to tell everyone about your faith, about how Christ came into your life, about how you know and love the Lord, about how the Church is the Body of Christ, and about how the Lord uses his Church to bring all of his gifts to his people and the world. This sounds like a lot of work. Probably embarrassing work at times. It’s not always easy for us to talk openly to others about our faith. They may get offended or tell us to shut up or just walk away. True. They may do all these things. But prophets are often ignored or told to shut up or sometimes worse. But you see here’s the thing: the great deeds of the Lord and His loving words must be told. Told and lived. Not just spoken again but done. The sick must be cured. The hungry must fed. The naked must be clothed. The imprisoned must be visited. Those enslaved to sin must know they are now free. Do these things. Tell others about the mighty works of God by doing these things yourself. Our Holy Father, John Paul II, said over and over again to us, “Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid!”

Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! We are! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all! He has! He has.