28 October 2006

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

30th Sunday OT: Jeremiah 31.7-9; Hebrews 5.1-6; Mark 10.46-52
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
HTS: Catholic Social Scientists; St Paul’s Hospital; Church of the Incarnation

So, there you are. Blind. Begging on the street. Hoping that someone would drop a few coins in your lap or pitch a bite of food your way. The street seems busier than usual. Noisier. There’s an electric vibe to the air. Something blazing. Something, someone…beautiful is coming. You feel the mobbed road swell. The people push you away. Swatting at you to move back. You feel...something, someone walking along the way and you feel… excitement? Longing? Hunger? Hope? What is it? And then, just as you know the feeling, you hear someone whisper, “It is Jesus of Nazareth!” Faith! Yes, faith! That’s it. You yell over the mob, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” Those around you, those who ignore you everyday or kick at you to move to another corner or tree, those who might spare you a small meal…they shush you, tell you to be quiet. They rebuke you for your shamelessness, your eagerness to be heard, to be seen. You cry out again, “Son of David, have pity on me.” The people in the crowd grow more impatient and you feel their building violence, their reckless bodies pressing in. You’ve been a target before and do not wish to be a target again. He is gone anyway. Then, a voice: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Calling you? He heard you. He heard your voice. He sees you. You jump up too fast and go to Jesus. You can’t see him looking at you, but you feel his eyes on yours. In a flash, your skin is electric, your blood speeding, every bone vibrates. And you hear him say, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And so, here you are. Sitting there. Maybe hungry? Thirsty? A bit worn from a day of reading, listening, arguing? Enlivened by good company, good conversation. The way is not crowded. No one is kicking at you. You don’t need to beg. If you shouted now, called out for Jesus, we might all stare at you embarrassed, but no one would try to shut you up. At least, not at first. So, happy, free, comfortably housed, recently fed…why are you here? Are deaf and want to hear? Mute and want to speak? Dead and want to live? Bleeding? Demon possessed? Unable to walk? Cowardly? Leprous? Are you blind and want to see? So, here you are. Sitting there. And why?

Jesus draws the nearly naked man into his reach, searching in his black eyes and finding what he needs, he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The man’s black eyes glint a terrible trust. He says, “Master, I want to see.” Master, I want to live. Master, I want to hear, to walk, to be free, to sin no more, to serve you. Master, I want…I want to follow you. “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Jesus offers him his first chance to use his sight: go your way. You trust me. Go your way. The man’s black eyes brighten. They are brown or dark green or hazel. He sees. “Immediately he received his sight.” He takes his first chance as one who sees to make Christ’s way his own way. He follows our Lord.

The man who had black eyes sat on the roadside waiting for his sight. When Jesus walked by he had the guts to yell for his gift, to shout over the crowd, despite the crowd, in defiance of the people’s polite shock at his disreputable display. He asks for Christ’s compassion. Notice: the man did not yell, “Master, make me see!” He asks for mercy, twice. And Jesus’ disciples strengthen his heart—encourage him—by saying, “Jesus is calling you.” With this, “he threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” Bartimaeus has a need. Jesus has his gift. Bartimaeus begs for compassion. Jesus offers him his merciful service. In answer, Bartimaeus boldly, confidently speaks aloud the name of his gift in faith and he is saved—he is healed, made whole. Free in trust, he makes a choice to follow Christ.

And so, here you all are. Sitting there. Why are you here? Are you here to proclaim your praise for the Lord, the One who delivered His people from slavery? Are you here to shout with joy that you are healed of your sins, unchained from devilish persecution? Are you here to be consoled? Guided? Delivered from ignorance and error? Weakness? Are you here for your inheritance? Let me ask you this while we asking questions: can you claim your gift? I mean, are you able to speak aloud in faith and ask for the Lord’s blessing? If Jesus found in the middle of your darkness, your most radical despair, and he said to you: what do you want me to do for you? What could you say? What would you say? Do you have the courage to name your gift in faith?

Despite the naysaying whine of our moronic media machine and despite the greedy crowds of meretricious politicians and despite the herds of obscenity obsessed cultural technicians and despite the novelty idolaters of the academy—despite this Legion of increasingly embarrassing and clattering poltergeists, can you, will you stand up with your disabilities, your flaws, your disgraces, your histories of stupidities and mistakes, stand up with your blindness, your muted tongue, and your oftentimes chilly-heart and shout over the crashing, drowning din of the professional pagans, shout to the Lord, “Lord! I need your compassion! I need your pity!” If you will, your trust will be rewarded. And you will follow him. Yes, to glory. But possibly first to ignobility, to abandonment, to a gut-wrenching cry on a cross you don’t get to choose.

If someone were to ask me why all of you are here I might say: for the fellowship, for a time and place away from the secular, for a chance to visit the Holy, to offer praise and thanksgiving, to hear the Word proclaimed and preached, to offer Christ on his altar, to see Calvary again. If I said that, all of those would be accurate but inadequate. True but not entirely satisfying. We are waiting on a roadside. But there is no elbowing crowd. We are blind or deaf or proud or disgraced or cold-hearted. But we’re here. We are the disciples on the road. And we are Bartimeamus, shouting to the Lord for our gifts! We are here for courage. We are here because Christ is calling us. We are free before Jesus. And we hear him say, “What do you want me to do for you?”

If you will claim your inheritance as a child of our Father, you will stand in the crowd and shamelessly beg for God’s mercy; you will shout for His compassion over the noise of the industry of disbelief. And when he asks what blessing you would have of him, say, “Only to follow you, Lord.” You will be beautiful then, naked and perfectly clean.

Finally! A Solution to Abortion!, or Thanks again, Sisters

More moral clarity from the “Catholic” sisters of the National Coalition of American Nuns…please compare:

We encourage respect for the moral adulthood of women and will choose legislators who will recognize the right of women to make reproductive decisions and receive medical treatment according to the rights of privacy and conscience.


We believe all children should be safe from sexual predators in their homes, schools, churches, in government offices and on the Internet[…]

Here’s the solution to all our abortion problems! The Pro-Life movement needs to re-classify “Mothers” as “Primary Sexual Predators” and then the NCAN will write a stinging manifesto calling on Congress and the United Nations to pass laws to protect unborn children against the Primary Sexual Predator who dares to hire Secondary Sexual Predators to shoot them full of saline and then suck them piece by piece out of their Primary Sexual Predator’s womb. This is genuis! Thanks again, Sisters!

The problem with killing children, or Thanks, sisters!

The Denver Post reports on an attempt by the National Coalition of American Nuns to sway Catholic voters to vote for “Culture of Death” candidates:

Opposing war and treating immigrants with compassion are included in a list of seven issues outlined by the group. Mary Ann Coyle and Anna Koop of Denver and Sallie Ann Watkins of Pueblo are the other Colorado nuns on the board.

The letter also states, "We encourage respect for the moral adulthood of women and will choose legislators who will recognize the right of women to make reproductive decisions and receive medical treatment according to the rights of privacy and conscience."

So, apparently the problem with war is not that children are killed; it’s that they aren’t killed by their mothers. Or is it that war tends to kill children publicly and the sisters think they should be killed privately. Or maybe it’s the whole “presence of a medical professional” thing that they think distinguishes kids unintentionally killed in a war zone by soldiers and bombs from kids intentionally killed in a nice, sterile abortion clinic by MD’s and moms?

And these sisters wonder why their congregations are dying. I don’t know any young women who are ready to waste their lives in a “catholic” religious order that defends the proposition that it is a moral good for a mother to kill her child. This is beyond sad; and it is truly despairing.

27 October 2006

Satan, Goats, Fire, and Jesus

29th Week OT(F): Ephesians 4.1-6 and Luke 12.54-59
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

The EU will implant microchips in its citizens. The computer that controls the chips is called “The Beast.” Osama bin Lama will be killed and then rise again in three days to become the Anti-Christ. Apparitions of the Blessed Mother warn that there is a Great Chastisement coming. Secular powers, controlled by a cabal of modernist Satanists, will systematically persecute the Church. Bishops, priests, entire religious orders and even a future pope serve these Satanists. These are just a few of the dire predictions about our future as Catholics in the world. I won’t even touch on the Protestant disaster scenarios I grew up with. Here’s the problem with these predictions: even if they prove to be true, so what? I mean, what does it matter?

Jesus knows that the hypocrites in the crowd know who he is and why he’s preaching. He knows that they know that he’s fulfilled the prophecies and that he is among them as the Christ. Though they can easily read the signs in the sky and on the earth to predict the weather, they pretend not to be able to read the signs of his coming as the Messiah. Why? Likely b/c a correct interpretation of the signs would require them to consider seriously the necessity of conversion, the necessity of starting over in a New Life in Christ; meaning, they would have to leave the old self behind and start fresh. That’s frightening and arduous. In some bizarre sense a life of sin is comfortable, familiar. The prospect of having such a life revolutionized by acknowledging the arrival of the Messiah must be terrifying!

If you think that I am implying that we shouldn’t waste our time with the fantastic predictions of devilish demise, you’re wrong. I’m not implying it at all. I’m saying it outright. Don’t waste your time. The only prophecy that need concern a Catholic is the prophecy of the arrival of the Messiah. He’s here. Let’s move to making sure that everyone who meets us, hears us, sees us, reads us, or even hears rumors about us knows that we have a single mind, a single heart, one Word, one miracle in faith; that we move and breath and grow and hope to die in one Spirit, preserved in unity through the bond of peace. Let’s be absolutely sure that everything we do and say fulfills with love the prophecy of his coming, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, and his coming again. Does the world see the Body of Christ, the Church, coming in glory to suffer in love, to serve in hope, to persevere in faith no matter what comes? Or do we look like a secret society with something to hide?

When we grind away our short hours here wringing our hands over weird visions and crazy fortunes, we waste the gift of time for witnessing to Love Who saved us and Who will bring us to Him forever. A preoccupation with these visions opens us to all sorts of sins of omission. What are we not doing for God’s people while decoding biblical numerologies and arguing about the authenticity of another Marian visit. What gets left undone? Never does Jesus tell the disciples that they will find themselves among the roasting goats in Hell for failing to properly interpret and apply the message of one of his mother’s apparitions. They will go to Hell, he tells them, for failing to clothe the naked, for failing to visit the imprisoned, for failing to feed the hungry, and for failing to welcome the stranger. In other words, for failing to do the work Christ did, we fail as his students and ambassadors and we reject his grace. Goat, let me introduce you to Fire. Goat, fire. Fire, goat.

We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism and we have one witness: to bear with one another through love so that the world is astonished by our generosity and comes to Christ b/c our joy in his grace is irresistibly contagious! We must prove that being a prisoner for the Lord is the freest anyone can ever be.

23 October 2006

Only the rich go to heaven...

29th Week OT (M): Ephesians 2.1-10 and Luke 12.13-21
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

The Gospel of Power and Wealth has been in the news much lately. All those megachurch celebrity-preachers who buy used football stadiums and fill them up with folks desperate for a message of easy hope and cheap grace. Here’s the formula: take a few tidbits of folksy conventional wisdom; gently mix in a few carefully selected biblical images or ideas; fold these with several large dashes of alliteration and bumper sticker brevity; bake for a few years on cable access and strip mall storefronts; then package as a Prosperity Gospel with the subtitle: “God Wants You to be Rich.” Your former stadium becomes a “church” and you, a former used car salesman, are now a “pastor.”

We have to be careful. I don’t mean to mock those who do find hope and grace in these communities. My point is a bit more subtle than taking a few jabs at the competition. My point is this: when you put material prosperity, earthly treasures, at the center of your spiritual life—whether as an indicator of God’s blessing or a reward for strong faith or as a consequence of sound biblical financial planning—when you make your stock portfolio or your savings account the measure of your holiness, the benchmark of your righteousness, you risk—dangerously risk!—losing the true riches that God has for you. Making your wealth in things rather than your poverty of spirit the measure of God’s grace working in your life is foolish—literally, “without any wisdom.” God, surveying the vain attempts of the rich man to store up his treasures, says to the man, “You fool!” You are poor in the things that matter to God.

So, what matters to God? Our Father has mercy in great abundance. And because he has such love for us as His children, He has brought us back to life despite our sin. We are restored to life with Christ, lifted up with him, and seated next to him in the presence of God. And why? Paul writes to the Ephesians: “[so] that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace…for by grace you have been saved through faith…it is a gift of God.” Not from our works. For we are his handiwork.

The public sign of our abundant riches is not the Lexus, the Gucci wardrobe, the Rolex, or the micro-mansion in Plano. The public sign of our wealth in Christ Jesus is our willingness to serve through good works, our eagerness to repent and to forgive, our excitement at the chance to witness to our trust in God, our ready obedience to one another, and our humility before the historic faith. And even with these the riches of God’s grace are immeasurable. What is prosperity? What is wealth? What is abundance? What is any of this held against the infinite progress of His gift of life and eternal life?

It is true: only the rich go to heaven. Only those greatly blessed with great wealth will see God face-to-face after death. In fact, there’s not much point in the poor struggling now for heaven later. If we will not take the treasures given freely by God now, there’s no hope of finding ourselves in the crowd around the throne later. Everything you need to live abundantly is freely given by the Father through His Son in the Holy Spirit. Your life is freely given. Your redemption is freely given. Your blessings are freely given. Your sins are freely forgiven. And you are brought to the Divine Life pristine, glorious, and free. Only the rich see God face-to-face. Only those rich in His mercy, only those freed as His possessions.

22 October 2006

How to Transform Suffering and Death

29th Sunday OT: Isa 53.10-11; Hebrews 4.14-16; Mark 10.35-45
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

Think about how we avoid discomfort, suffering, and death. To avoid discomfort we have invented air conditioning, bucket seats, padded shoes, thermal underwear, and even complex social manners to avoid awkward moments at parties and in public restrooms. To avoid suffering we have invented philosophies that deny evil, political utopias where no one is rich or poor, and religions that believe suffering is as an effect of desire and so we must eliminate desire. To avoid death we have invented material immortalities: surgeries, pharmaceuticals, diets, exercises, genetic therapies, nanotechnologies. To avoid death we have also invented ways of creating and re-creating ourselves out of death, or beyond it—the beautiful immortalities of art, literature, monument, heroism, memory, music.

How much of our daily living is about avoiding discomfort, suffering, and death? Better question: as members of the Body of Christ, heirs to the Father’s Kingdom, are we called to avoid discomfort, suffering, and death? Is this part of our ministry as disciples, as apostles? When is sacrificial service NOT about discomfort, suffering, and death?

Isaiah sets us up to understand exactly how suffering—willingly taking on pain for a godly purpose—is essential to sacrificial service: “If he gives his life as an offering for sin…the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” Note these three: “if he gives his life,” “because of his affliction,” and “through his suffering.” And note the progression: the Lord’s servant freely offers himself for the sin of others…he sees the light in fullness b/c of this sacrificial service…and through his suffering—his willing acceptance of our sin for a higher purpose—the servant brings many to righteousness. He justifies us before the Lord. In other words, because he was discomforted, b/c he suffered, b/c he died, we do not have to. We are instead comforted, free of anxious worry, and we may live eternally.

So, if this is true—and it is—why then do we still work so hard to avoid discomfort, run so fast from suffering, and dodge the death of repentance so arduously? We do not want to be last. We are creatures of Firsts—first across the line, at the top of our game, highest score, fastest time, strongest lift, best grade, first prize, deepest soul, lightest spirit, hardest body…all to weaken, all to weaken and fade, all to weaken and fade and die. Dust. Shade. Snap of an echo. Gone.

Who wants to be a servant? Who wants the work of serving others? There is no glamour there, no applause, no dramatic ovation or spray of roses. It’s humble grubbing, embarrassing effort that makes someone’s life better but it just gives me wet armpits, dirty hands, a sore back, and a logjam on my own homework or my TIVO watching. Surely, it is better to be served; better to be first and not last; a Master and not a slave. It is!

If you will be in this world and of it, then you are morally obligated to pursue the best, the first, the highest. To be in and of the world is to be in and of the virtues the world holds up as Good. To be otherwise is suicide. You must honor the bottom-line. Praise efficiency. Worship at the altar of productivity. Practice winner-take-all competition. Lose the losers. Appeal to no power mightier than civil law. Here’s your bumper sticker: “If you have yours, I can’t have mine.” You must celebrate my needs as my rights, otherwise you are oppressing me. You must also celebrate my wants as my rights, otherwise you are hating me. Requiring me to serve others is just you trying to control me with guilt. I don’t do guilt. My adult spirituality is an eclectic weaving together of the best elements of a variety of religious traditions—none of which require anything of me, especially not sacrificial service! If you will be of this world and in it, you must conform to its virtues: work-pride, self-avarice, power-lust, gift-envy, success-gluttony, failure-wrath, and soul-sloth. Play with these worldly virtues or risk their opposing vices: ignored in modesty, disrespected for generosity, mocked for purity, taken for granted in kindness, ostracized for abstinence, laughed at for mercy shown, and hated for one’s holy industry.

If you will be great among the Lord’s disciples, you will serve. If you will be first among the apostles, you will be a slave to all.

The pain that Jesus endured on the cross did not and does not save us. The beatings by the Roman soldiers, the betrayal of his disciples, the political backstabbing wheeling-dealing of Pilate—all of these caused Jesus pain. This pain did not save us. Pain is not redemptive. Isaiah heard the Lord say, “If he gives his life as an offering for sin…the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.” If he gives. James and John ask Jesus to be honored in his kingdom. Jesus says to his honor-seeking disciples: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink…?” They say, “We can.” We can drink the cup that you, Lord, drink—the same cup that Jesus later prays will pass him by! For the Servant’s pain to be redemptive, for Jesus’ pain on the cross to be redemptive, it must be suffered, that is, “allowed.” It must be taken on with a will and directed to the benefit of others. To wallow in pain is to wallow in pain. Nothing more. To take up pain in the service of others, to designate pain as a sacrifice, to make it holy by giving it away for a holy end—that is suffering! And this suffering mocks the Devil. It scrubs the world clean. It rotates the unholy virtues of pride and greed and blesses them as humility and generosity.

Discomfort is eased. Suffering is avoided. Death is delayed. We will invent and re-invent human civilization after human civilization in order to ease our discomfort, to avoid our suffering, and to delay our deaths. And we will lift up and parade the secular virtues to justify our refusal to take on service for others. But is this what we as Christians are called to do? Are we called to avoid discomfort, suffering, and death? No. We are called to transform discomfort, suffering, and death; to make each into the good habit of being Christs for others. We are called to turn discomfort into the luxury of humility; to turn pain into the art of redemptive suffering; to turn death into a witness to everlasting Life!

Our Lord did not die on the cross so that we might be blue ribbon winners or gold medalists. He died on the cross to show us how to be the friends of God. How to be servants to one another. He gave his life as a ransom for many so that we will know how to give our lives as a ransom for many more.

What does your life stand for? What do you represent in the world? Whom do you serve? Here’s a question for you: will you die for me? For that guy behind you? For your next door neighbor? If you will give your life as an offering for sin, the will of the Lord will be accomplished through you. And because of your affliction you will see the light in fullness of day.

Will you be small in the kingdom of God by dying to pride and greed in the service of others? Or will you insist on being great among the Great of the World and in the end find yourself among the Great who proudly rule the smoldering trash heaps of Gehenna?