18 November 2006

A Wedding Homily

Sacrament of Matrimony: Marci Strauss & Joseph Lee
Genesis 2.18-24; Ps 145.8-9; 1 Cor 12.31-13.8; John 2.1-11
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Love is patient. Love is kind. And it is not jealous or rude or pompous. Love is gentle and giving. And it is messy. Sometimes horribly messy. Love is often difficult and strange. Almost always it is impractical, risky, and hazardous to one’s health. Love makes us generous, forgiving, and blind. It makes us stupid, a little nuts, and it makes almost perfectly human. We love because God made us in His image and likeness. And God is Love. For this reason—Deus caritas est—Love never fails.

If love is messy and dangerous and often makes one stupid, why bother with it at all? We have no choice. We can no more fail to love than we can fail to breathe and live. We might fail to love this person or that one, but if we live and move and have our being in God, we love. Passionately. Distantly. Eagerly. Reluctantly. Or even grudgingly. But we love. And in loving we become more and more like God Who is Love. This perfection, this growing more fully into the image and likeness of God is our salvation; it is how God says to us: “You are healed; you are saved; you are loved. Now, become love for one another!” Hazardous, wasteful, and downright dumb, yes; but loving one another is worth the price of insuring against a long life of short passions and a too early grave so late in living.

Without love we are dead in the heart—just waiting to be buried. Paul writes to the Corinthians: Present your spiritual gifts for inspection! Speak in tongues, prophesy, explain the mysteries and teach all knowledge, trust and move mountains, sell everything and walk the world stripped naked in poverty. Do it all! But if you do not love…you are noise, discordant racket. You are nothing. Thankfully, we have been given a more excellent way: love bears every burden, trusts every promise, hopes for every gift, and endures and endures and endures. Love rejoices in the truth and never fails…even when, no, especially when we fail to love one another.

So there he is in Cana. Mingling. Chatting. Sipping a decent wine. His disciples are there too. Mixing and drinking. Having a good time at this wedding. Then disaster strikes! The wine is almost gone. Mary finds Jesus in a circle of friends telling stories about playing hide and seek in the temple and scaring his parents to death. Mary pulls Jesus away from his fun and says to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus replies, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” You can almost see Mary getting That Mom Face—relaxed but stubborn, sure of getting her way but patient about it. Then Jesus says something completely unexpected: “My hour has not yet come.” Mary knows what this means. It is not yet time for him to reveal himself as the Messiah. So, like any good mother dealing with a stubborn son, Mary ignores him completely and tells the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus changes the stone jars of water into stone jars of wine and the wedding party goes on! Why now? I mean, why did Jesus choose a wedding to reveal his divine Sonship? Why did he pick a marriage rite to say publicly, “I am the promised messiah; I am the Anointed One”? By performing this miracle, the gospel says, Jesus “revealed his glory” and that “his disciples began to believe in him.” Simply put: Jesus picked this time and place and event to reveal his divine mandate to preach a good news to the children of Israel because it is at a wedding that we celebrate the coming together of two people in one flesh. Jesus announces that he is here to heal the breach between his Father and his Father’s nation. They would be “one flesh” in him—human and divine, a healed injury, a forgotten anger, and a revelation of God’s love. That’s what a marriage is: the completion, the perfection of a man and a woman in one flesh so that God’s love may be revealed to the world and in the world, more fully proclaimed and better understood.

We are not here this afternoon to participate in a wedding. This is not a wedding feast. The liturgical books say that we are participating in the “Rite of Marriage within the Mass.” The lectionary says that this liturgy is the “Conferral of the Sacrament of Matrimony.” Sacrament. We are here to witness Joseph and Marci confect a sacrament. They are enacting God’s grace, our Father’s invitation to live with Him now and forever. When they say “I do” they become one flesh, one body and their lives together become one witness to God’s love for us, His children, His church. And this is why the Church teaches the indissolubility of marriage: Love never fails, God never fails. What God has brought together, let no one destroy.

As witnesses to this sacrament, this public sign of God’s grace, we are all charged with saying “Amen.” Do not say “amen” lightly. It requires a commitment. It is not enough for us to show up, take our places, and sip the good wine afterwards. By being here and by our “amen” we are committing ourselves to what at first might seem like an easy task—supporting Joseph and Marci in a long, happy marriage. The sacrament is not done when the wedding is over. We have been preparing them for a marriage not a wedding; for a sacrament not a ceremony. The sacrament of marriage is not a magical ritual that wipes away all faults, all warts; gets rid of every complaint, every hardness of heart and all anxiety. The sacrament confers the grace necessary for Joseph and Marci to live as one flesh in the world as a sign of God’s love for the world. But it does not confer moral perfection, angelic virtue, or heroic endurance. That’s our job—those here who say “amen”—that’s our job: to be a perfecting influence, a virtuous refuge, an encouragement to endurance through the jagged days. With all of our own faults, our own problems, we are called by this sacrament to stand with these two today and celebrate their love for one another. And we are called to stand with them when they need us in less celebratory times.

Joseph and Marci: listen for the “amens” today. Hear them all. There are people here who love you and who are standing with you today, tomorrow, and on into whenever. You are a sensible pair. Well-prepared to meet the rough spots. You both laugh easily. You both give generously and take gratefully. You are practical and creative. Meticulous and free. You are smart, passionate, and your love for one another is plain to see.

I will end with this exhortation: be patient with one another and kind; do not be jealous or arrogant, puffed up or mean-spirited; take care of one another when things are good and not so good; seek the other’s happiness and will the best; bear together, trust together, hope together, and endure, endure, endure.

Remember: Love never fails.

17 November 2006

Unnatural, impractical, and downright dangerous

St. Elizabeth of Hungary: 1 John 3.14-18 and Luke 6.27-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass and Church of the Incarnation

The naivety of what Jesus is asking of us here is almost laughable. Truly absurd. The degree of holiness required to accomplish this level of humility is staggering. Love those who hate us. Lend without expecting or pursuing repayment. Stop making judgments. Doing just these three would mean opening ourselves to national destruction, the collapse of our economy, and the collapse of our judicial system. It would seem that the sensible people in Jesus’ homily are the sinners! They love those who love them and defend themselves against their enemies. They expect debts to be repaid and they repay their debts. They work at making sure justice is served as a deterrent to future crime. Frankly, I would rather live in a society run by the sinners—it will be ordered and predictable. What Jesus is asking of us here seems to me to be beyond the limits of human possibility; what he is asking is unnatural, impractical, and probably dangerous.

If what he is asking is even a little unnatural, impractical, or probably dangerous, why does he think we can measure up to his standard? Why would it occur to him to say out loud that we should—as a matter of our holiness—take on flipping the moral and legal expectations of our day? Some might say he’s asking us to flip human nature and go against our primitive evolutionary imperatives of survival! He wants us to fight our genetic heritage. There is only one way for us to follow Christ on this one given what he is asking of us. And he knows that one way: we must die and become new men and women in him.

John writes, “We know that we have passed from death to life b/c we love our brothers.” We love our brothers—our sisters and brothers in Christ—and therefore we know that we have passed from death to life. The love we have for one another is sufficient evidence for concluding that we died and yet live, that we went from life to death to life again. And how did we come to love one another given all these survival of the fittest genetic issues we carry around in our DNA? John again, “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us.” We came to know the love required to rewrite our genetic code, to rearrange our DNA, if you will, through the heroic sacrifice of Calvary, the once for all bleeding of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

It is Easter morning! The empty tomb is the laboratory of our Christian genome project—we are edited, revised, undone and redone, rewired, and now we walk out of that tomb not just refurbished and mark 50% off, we walk out LOVED by Love Himself and there is nothing for us to do but love right back by loving those He Himself loves. What was impossible for us is natural for Him and what is natural for Him is now supernatural for us b/c He loved us first. We are to love our enemies, our debtors and our creditors, those who judge us and those we judge, those who strike us and those we want to strike, we are to do all these not simply b/c Jesus asks us to but b/c we are becoming Christ in the Father’s love. We have much to endure and much to gain.

Want to know how to live these absurd requirements? Let’s pretend: here we are at the end of the age, standing before the Judge of all creation. On his right the white fire of the heavenly staircase taking saints to the banquet. On his left a scorched hole, stench of seared flesh, and the naying of goats forever lost. Time for you to pick the scale with which he will measure your immortal soul. Will you pick the Measure of Justice or the Measure of Mercy? Choose carefully: “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

15 November 2006

Wisdom, foolishness, and fried fish

St. Albert the Great: Sirach 15.1-6 and Matthew 13.47-52
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Jesus tells the crowds a simple, familiar parable. The Kingdom of heaven is like a big net thrown into the sea. The fishermen collect every sort of fish in their net. When the net is full they haul in the bounty and celebrate the wondrous diversity of God’s creation, the wondrous multiplicity of shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs and worldviews…and…theological perspectives. Wait. Let me read this again...“When the net is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age.” What?! No celebration of diversity?! No affirmation of difference or spiraling hymns to a harvest of tolerance?! Nope. “The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.” Darn. I was hoping to sing a new church into being. You know, one without dogma or creed.

OK. Enough fun. Jesus tells the crowds this familiar parable and asks them, “Do you understand?” They say, “Yes.” Why does he ask this question? The parable is simple enough. Everyone is invited to the Kingdom. Christ’s sacrifice was made once for all. Some will see and hear the Word preached and come to the Kingdom as guests. Others will see and hear and choose to live forever as they lived in life—without God. So, why the question? Jesus is checking for wisdom. Not just “knowledge of” or “information about” but wisdom—an abiding awareness of the presence of God in the world, an awe before His glory. Sirach tells us that like a mother wisdom nourishes, embraces, cherishes, and teaches. Wisdom inspires, enjoys, makes glad. She exalts the wise and bequeaths an everlasting reputation.

Do you understand? It is not enough to know of God or have a lot of info about God; it is necessary to fear Him, to hold Him in awe, to be nourished by Him, to be embraced, to be cherished, and to be taught. When we are in a proper friendship with God—humility—His wisdom breathes life into us, fills us with joy, and makes us glad to be His children. Then we are ready to learn, ready to thrive in understanding, ready always to move into the world with our faith in front of us—measuring, weighing, accessing, and asking every time: “Is this choice, this decision, this action—is it righteous? Does it help me grow holier, grow closer to God and my brothers and sisters in the kingdom?”

We are wisest when we pray, “Lord, teach me your wisdom.” We are at our most foolish when we pray, “Lord, here’s what you need to understand about your historical context, your cultural and gender biases, your religious limitations, ad nauseum…” We are wisest when we pray, “Lord, open my mouth and fill me with your wisdom and understanding so that I may preach your Word.” We are foolish when we pray, “Lord, I’m opening my mouth, don’t bother filling it with anything, it’s already full of my own opinions and I’ve figured out what’s best for me in my current circumstances. I’ll be preaching those words instead.”
Like a mother God’s wisdom gives the wise food, drink, comfort, and understanding. The foolish get a fiery furnace where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Do you understand all these things?

14 November 2006

The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI

I rec'd a new book from Doubleday Books on the life and theology of the current holder of the Petrine Office, Let God's Light Shine Forth: Teh Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI. Robert Moynihan has edited together an excellent little book on what B16 thinks about the major themes of Christian life: the Trinity, Mary, Creation, Politics, bioethics, etc. and he includes the texts of the Holy Father's first Word, Message, and Homily as pope. The book contains generous quotes from the Holy Father's pre-papal days, including some provocative texts on the liturgy: "I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter anymore whether God exists and whether He speaks to us and listens to us"(118). This book would make an excellent text for an adult formation class or a young adult introduction to the faith. Though some of the language is a bit technical, nothing is so complex or rarified that your faithful Catholic couldn't understand it. Check it out!

13 November 2006

Happy Anniversary!

Happy First Anniversary to "Domine, da mihi hanc aquam!" One year ago today I braved the blog world in answer to the annoying cajoling of my students to put my homilies on-line. Since that time I have logged more than 40,000 hits. That's nothing compared to Amy Welborn and Mark Shea, but not bad for a preacher from Mississippi! Thanks to all who frequent my blog...God bless, Fr. Philip, OP

12 November 2006

Goofy Theology of "The Monastery"

Anyone else watching The Monastery? I saw just about 45 minutes of it tonight and I was struck by the superficiality of the monks' theology! Just about everything the abbot said was New Agey psychobabble. The Asian monk was speaking Buddhist with a Berekely accent. And Br. Gabriel actually said to the big whiney ex-Catholic, "It's like God needs us." What?! The only one I heard tonight that sounded remotely Catholic was the hermit, Br. Xavier. I have to admit that this is the first time I've seen this show. I haven't seen anything about it on the blogs. Is there anyone out there watching this show and critiquing the goofy theology these guys are preaching?

Divine gift or Demonic bribe? Hmmmm...

32nd Sunday OT: 1 Kings 17.10-16; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

Is it best to give much, to give often, or to give wholeheartedly? Perhaps it is best to give much, often, and wholeheartedly! This is certainly better than giving little, seldom, and miserly. A stingy heart leaks bile not blood and will dry quickly into a stone. The gospel question here is: from where do we give? Out of what do we give? Jesus praises the widow for her generosity. But her generosity is not a matter of amount, frequency, or attitude. Her generosity is measured by her poverty. While the rich people at the temple give from their surplus wealth—what was leftover—the widow gave from her destitution, her impoverishment. She contributed “all she had, her whole livelihood.” Now, this is not an exhortation from Jesus for rich people to give more, more often, and with a more gracious attitude, This is, in fact, a call for every generous heart—rich, poor, somewhere in between—to think carefully about what our Father has provided for us and how we spread His goodness around.

Christ wants more, better, and best from us always, but what he wants most is our contrite hearts and humble spirits. Out of these sacrifices he wants an outrageous generosity to pour out service, prayer, and abundant witness. So let me ask you another gospel question: what are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from?

You might ask: “Why does it matter where my generosity comes from? Isn’t giving the point?” The short answer: No. Giving isn’t the point. Giving is the result, the conclusion. What must come before or underneath giving itself is a wide-open, bountiful, abundantly generous heart, a heart at the center of which is the living sacrifice of Christ himself on the cross. Christian generosity pours out from the heart-tabernacle, from the holy of holies where the Lord Himself rests in us—the hub of friendship with God, the axis point at which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit meet to contain all that we are and all that we have. An abundantly generous heart is a bottomless covenant, an eternal promise of blessing and gift, of virtue and of holy consequence. If we will give as the widow did, we give a lot or often or graciously, we will give as God our Father gives: fully, freely, without price, expectation, or debt. We will give ourselves, all of ourselves, everything we have and are, give all that we love, all that hold for security, all that we reserve just for us. We will give as Christ gave to us and for us on the altar of the cross and gives to us now on that altar of sacrifice. We must give our lives if we are to live.

Let’s see if we all understand the sacrifice of Calvary, the generous gift of Christ’s life for our sins. Jesus died on the cross, was buried, rose from the tomb, ascended to the Father, and now we come together to sacrifice him again on that altar. We are here to beat and bruise his body again, here to lash him and crown him with thorns, here to pound those nails through his hands and feet, and lift him up over Golgotha so that we might benefit again from his death—a death that we repeat over and over again in the Mass. Right? NO! That is an anti-Catholic parody of our theology of redemption. The Catholic theology of redemption is the theology of redemption found in today’s reading from Hebrews. Christ does not offer himself repeatedly for our sins; he does not come before the holy of holies once a year like the levitical High Priest to expiate our sins; he does not enter a wooden temple for us. Instead, he enters for us the temple of the presence of God. He went before the holy holies once to expiate our sins. And he offered himself once for all on the cross. Hebrews reads, “…now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice…[and] will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”

Surely this is the Christian exemplar of generosity! Christ doesn’t give much, often, or graciously. He give all, forever, and perfectly. He gives us all of his life—his time among us, his trial, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. He gives us forever the benefits of his high priesthood, making us a royal, holy, and prophetic people. He gives us perfectly the one sacrifice we need, the only sacrifice we need for new life, for life eternal. And to complete, for us here in history, to complete the sacrifice of the cross, he will return in abundance, in glory, in awesome blessing and bring the fullness of divine healing to everyone who waits for him, everyone who waits with hearts opened, with tabernacle doors thrown wide.

Let me ask you again: what are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from? Think about what you take out of the treasury, what we all take from the treasury! My point here is not to shame anyone into being generous. My point is simply this: if we are withdrawing from the abundant treasury of God’s blessings—and we are—then surely we are filled with those blessings, surely we are stuffed like our uncles at Thanksgiving with the gifts and rewards of our Father’s goodness and beauty. Wonderful! Precisely as it should be. But if we are stuffed and continuing to stuff, then surely we are called to spread the goodies, to diffuse the blessings. You might say to me, “But Father, God gave me these blessings for my benefit. I prayed for them especially!” Yes, absolutely correct. He gave you that blessing so that you might use it to its fullest effect—by giving it away! By giving it away you will be truly blessed in your near reckless generosity. Hoarding blessings and gifts from God is a contradiction in terms. Let me suggest a radical notion to you: if you have a blessing or gift that you aren’t eager to give away, it is probably not a blessing or gift from God at all, but a bribe from the Devil. He is trying to buy you, an agent of Christ, off. He is trying to prevent you from delivering the Goods to those in need by making you think that the purpose of a blessing or gift is its immediate, personal use. The nature of blessing and gift is giving not hoarding.

What are you putting into the Lord’s treasury? Where does your generosity come from? Whatever abundance you have and whatever blessing you are, they and you come from God. It makes no sense to say that Christian generosity is obligatory; that it is stingy or mean; that it is frugal or sparing. Christian generosity comes from the welling up of love that is God Himself in us. Sitting at our center, the stillpoint of our body and soul, He dumps blessing after blessing after blessing into our lives and moves us to treat each blessing according to its nature: gift, giving, given, gave. The widow does not give much or often or perhaps even graciously. She gives out of her poverty and her poverty is transformed into fertile wealth—the teaching of Christ that feeds the generations. Of course, put time, talent, and treasure in the plate. We have bills to pay like everyone else. But put yourself on the altar of gift and offer a contrite heart and a humbled spirit as a perfect sacrifice to the Lord.

He wants you wholly given, perfectly gifted, and beautifully graced. Once for all give it all, everything, and enter the kingdom of God.