20 December 2006

Getting pregnant

Advent Dec 20: Isa 7.10-14 and Luke 1.26-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


If you have ever prayed for a sign, you know the agony that comes with waiting. There, in a moment of desperate need, you reach out to God, ask for some glimmer of direction, some flicker of guidance and there you sit, tittering right on the sharp edge of panic waiting for something, some indication, some signal or notice and growing more and more anxious, wondering if this or that noise, this or that pattern of birds or leaves or clouds were random or did you hear a word in the racket or read a word spelled out in feathers or branches or vapor, hoping that maybe just maybe there is some slight nod to your tangled knot in a kind word from a neighbor or is she an angel announcing the glory of the Lord, handing you that sealed envelope, that precious celestial telegram with large, curly-que letters, written, obviously, by the hand of God Himself, reading, “Here is my will for you…” and now you have to think the whole thing is a circus, a comedy of divine errors b/c God’s will for you is not what you expected, not what you had hoped; the signal is garbled or maybe the ink of the heavenly printer smeared and the message is now lost to the will of chance, gambled away, sadly (of course!) in a bet against what God wants for you, will have from you and your sign is empty of meaning b/c you can’t read or won’t read the billboard of the Father’s Will that flashes bright red and orange all day, everyday, right in front of your face, blaring too in sonorous notes of cool memory, imagination, and prayer: “The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. You are favored by God. You carry Jesus like an ark. The Holy Spirit has come upon you, therefore, the Word you carry is the Son of God. Since nothing is impossible for God: carry His Word, let him grow in you, and then bring him out for the world to honor as its Savior. His sign to you is your pregnant faith, your expectant trust in His promises. That you hope for a sign of His will for you is your sign of His will for you. Otherwise, why do you wait?” So, rather than ask, where is my sign from God?; ask, where is my trust that His will will be done for my greatest good? If you will be God’s servant, pray: “May it be done to me according to His word!”

18 December 2006

Trusting a person not a process

Advent (December 18): Jeremiah 23.5-8 and Matthew 1.18-25
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory


The way that we go about trusting God is very different from the way our pagan neighbors go about trusting nature. For one thing we trust a person, Jesus Christ, and we trust his promises to us. Those who embrace all manner of secular or neo-pagan or merely materialistic spiritualities trust…what?...patterns of material behavior or repeatable lab tests or cycles of the stars and moon in their seasons? Surely you can see the sense in their ways? What is more convincing than the evidence of your eyes and eyes? Just look! And you will see that fall turns to winter turns to spring turns to summer and so on. Injections of medicines cure diseases. We’ve been to the moon using our observations of the stars and our gravitational math and thrust. But is it proper to say that we “trust” these? Do we invest hope in mathematics, medicines, astronomy? Do we trust things in themselves? Or do we just expect them to work as advertised? And then put our frustrations with failure on those who urged us to hope in things?

Emmanuel! God is with us! That’s faith. That’s trust. To hold that God is here with us, present with us and for us is trust. This means that we will pray and offer sacrifice because we are faithful people, trusting people, believing that the Lord has come and is coming. He is with us and coming again. Mary gave birth to him once under a star and now all of history and all of faith and prayer and honor and need pulls him to us, loving him into our lives moment by moment, growing his hands and feet and gospel tongue, giving him a voice that speaks Chinese, English, Spanish, Latin, Malay, Russian, Greek, Swahili, Aramaic, Navajo, and all the DOS codes! He will square dance, sing, play all instruments, excel at every X-Box game, read good poetry, romp around in the sandbox, drink good bourbon, love bread pudding and his mama; he will preach and teach and heal; and he will break us…again.

He will break us by demanding from us what he demanded from us before—Hear me, do as I say, I am Emmanuel, God with You, take up your cross, follow me, drink of my cup, be a slave who follows his master to his end. But do not fear: I am with you.

Jesus comes to us in Bethlehem under a star. Unrolling behind him are the books of the prophets. They bear his footprints. He rode those prophecies in Mary’s womb, treading each line, each syllable, reading every detail and knowing every time he did, he was reading his biography. From before Creation, the Son stood with the Father and knew. Emmanuel. God is with us. He is with us in our creation. In our re-creation. He is with us in our falling and in our getting back up. Jesus comes to us in Irving under another star. And out behind him are the books of the prophets, the witness of the apostles, the blood of the martyrs, our own words, deeds—spoken and left unspoken, done and undone.

Joseph believes b/c an angel comes to him in a dream. Why do we believe? Why do we trust this person, Jesus Christ? We are made to need God. We are made to love and to be loved. Joseph almost did the right thing by divorcing Mary. Then God called on him to do the Gospel Thing and love her instead. God soothed Joseph’s fear and said, in effect, I am with you. You have a mission, Joseph—care for Mary and your son, name him Jesus. This Joseph does and we honor him as Christ’s father.

The way that we go about trusting God is very different from the way our pagan neighbors go about trusting nature. We trust the person, Jesus Christ. We are made to love and when God is with us, we love perfectly. Trust will not move a cynical tongue. So, speak the Word today: Our Lord has come! And he is coming soon! Prepare the way of the Lord…

17 December 2006

Firm and Patient or Mushy and Impatient?

3rd Sun of Advent: Isa 35.1-6, 10; James 5.7-10; Matt 11.2-11
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX

[NB. I wrote this homily using the readings for Advent Year A. I don't know why. Duh.]


Delta nights in December are always cold. We drive back home from our grandparents’ home on Christmas Eve. My little brother, Andy, and I would play Find Rudolph. We crane our necks backwards looking up through the Pontiac’s back window, pointing at every blinking red light and shouting out, “There’s Santa! I see him!” And I remember either mom or dad saying something like, “Naw, that’s not him. He’s going in the wrong direction” or “No, his sleigh is bigger than that.” Rather than discourage us, this sure bit of detail made our hearts firm in the certainty that Santa was coming. There was no doubt b/c he made an appearance every year w/o fail. The promise of his advent was never broken.

Clockwork. Tides. Sunrise and set. Seasons. Promises. Advent. Make your hearts firm and wait for the coming of the Lord! The Spirit of the Lord is upon us! Be patient and go tell everyone what you hear and see…

Even though he had met Jesus in the womb—both of them in the womb!—John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus, never one to shrink from a chance to witness to his Father’s power and might, preaches. He says, Go and witness to John what you have heard and seen. Go tell him that the blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are made clean. The dead are raised. And the poor have been told the Good News of God’s mercy. Is this an answer to the question? Jesus doesn’t say “Yes, I am he” or “No, keep on looking.” He says instead, Be a witness to what I have said and done. Testify to my words and deeds, proclaiming to my herald John all those things that confirm my anointing as the Promised One of God. Jesus charges John’s disciple with the mission of evangelizing John himself! The Herald, the One Who Comes Before needs to hear and see what the witnesses of Christ have heard and seen.

The testimony of a firm and patient heart given under the Spirit outruns the crowd-pleasing drama of a prophetic message every time. John knew who Jesus was. But he needed a witness. He needed evidence from just one heart and mind turned to Christ by Christ; a heart and mind expectant, poised on the edge of inviting grace, ready to fall freely, without clutching law, binding custom. John is everyone who must told, must be shown what Christ has done, is doing, and will do.

Therefore, make your hearts firm and wait for the coming of the Lord! The Spirit of the Lord is upon us! Be patient and go tell everyone what you hear and see…

What is the difference between a firm heart and mushy heart? A firm heart draws its power from the undeniable presence of the Most High. A mushy heart squeamishly borrows its meager pulse from ideas or emotions about the Most High. A firm heart loudly, proudly pumps the blood of holiness to every extremity. A mushy heart conserves its blood for the small work of mere piety done in fear. The biggest difference: a firm heart will draw other firm hearts, other muscular believers who put Christ at the center of their lives, who dream and work, sleep and play, grow and fall and get up again with the name of Jesus on their lips. A mushy heart attracts rot, decline, debauchery, false witness, rebellion, vanity; a mushy heart attracts and feeds smug, self-righteous dissent.

Wait, firm hearts, be patient! After all, what did you come to see? To hear? Did you come here to have your ears tickled and your eyes dazzled? Should we all stand and sway like limp reeds in the wind, pushed and pulled by every sweep of the clouds across the religious grasses; or, should we all get on the floor this morning moaning, lifted and felled by every weight or care or featherlight hurt?

When your heart is mushy and impatient where does it take you? Resentment? Fury? Violence? Self-indulgence? Blaming others? Paranoia? Sometimes I believe we worship in a Church that lifts up and coddles our basest wants, our most fickle flights of imagination and fantasy. We want maximum results for minimum effort, the grandest product for the most meager labor. We want the barest possible spirituality, the thinnest skin and bones of a way to heaven and we want nothing to block our choices, no one to count our sabotage of the faith in our disobedience. Make it light and airy, Father, basic, sugar-dipped, honey-spoken, and cheap. Mushy hearts revel in bleeding out pabulum, oozing out 100% nutrition-free jabber.

When your heart is firm and patient where does it take you? Gratitude? Trust? Peacefulness? Generosity? Responsibility? Full maturity in Christ? The Church is the Body of Christ ready for war against the flesh of this world—not our bodies, mind you! But the bloody raw meat of disobedience and violence that drives this culture, that’s the flesh of this world; our bodies are temples of the Spirit!—The Church, equipped as the Body of Christ, must be ready for battle against the monsters of this culture’s failed modernist experiment. Your firm and patient hearts must battle: the all-consuming impatience of technology to improve us; the drive by science to turn our children into lab rats; the suppression of Christian free-speech and worship by dogmatic secularists; the death of the rational mind in the academy and in our public schools; the rule of relativism in political debate; and, the fear of the stranger that sometimes clutches the firmest, most patient heart…and squeezes.

What did you come to this desert to see? A prophet? More than a prophet! You came to hear and see a witness. Let the Church testify in her clockwork seasons. The telling and retelling of promises. The party of the advent of the Lord.

Prepare the way of the Lord in your heart. He will come to rest for a moment and then stir. Shake. Stomp around and push. If it is a lazy spirituality we want go to Barnes & Noble and spend $30 on a Mother Goddess Tarot Card Ouija Board and do whatever it tells you to do. Trust me: it will never tell you to do anything you don’t already lust to do. But if you want this faith, this journey, this Way and you want it now and forever, then prepare his way, make ready the mansions in your heart, the palaces of your mind—the Lord is coming, ready to heal, ready to clean, ready to lift you up. But your witness—what you have heard and seen—must be told, must be spoken. Mushy and impatient hearts grow mold, stinky fungus and shed no blood. If John the Baptist needed a witness, how much more does the world need your witness. No one is interested in your lack of perfection. Everyone is interested in your encounter with Christ! Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Be firm and patient. Let him hear your testimony, let him see your trust in his promise of eternal life. And let Him rewind and play again your resistance to this world of disobedient flesh and malignant spirit.

Rejoice then and go tell those who must hear the Good News of salvation: the Messiah has come! And he is coming again! The promise of His advent will not be broken.