12 January 2007

To be healed is to be obedient

1st Week OT(F): Hebrews 4.1-5, 11 and Mark 2.1-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


The source of our sickness is disobedience. What ails us, what dis-eases us, what stirs our peace and hacks at our trusting foundation is our failure to listen, to attend to the Word, to receive and collect in the Good News—all of the Good News not just the safe, cheery bits—all of the teachings of Christ, to bring them in, tend to them, and harvest their powerful fruit for our holiness, our witness, and our mission. Without the food of the Word made flesh, the truth of the faith, we are left to starve on a junk food diet of wishful thinking, emotive fantasy, destructive curiosity, and, finally, religious disobedience—an adolescent tantrum of the heart and mind that rebels against truth b/c knowing the truth is a step toward being freed from the slavery of sin, a step toward being made a slave to Christ. To be healed is to hear the Word spoken to your disobedience—to hear him and listen!

From Hebrews we read: “…we have received the Good News just as our ancestors did.” We have heard the same message, heard the same covenant, received the same law as did those who came before us in faith, “but the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened.” To be “united in faith with those who listened” is precisely what we mean when we use the word Tradition to point to some teaching that defines us as Catholics. We are able to stand here in Irving, TX in 2007 and reach back 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000 years and lay our hands on an ancient wisdom—not just information or knowledge, not just data and figures—but true wisdom, faithfully lived, sometimes messy, sometimes difficult, but always humane, always a record of honest struggle, a record of hard won holiness in spite of mistakes, in spite of error and sin and the heart’s failure. Our Tradition—Christ’s teachings—held in his Body, the Church, our Tradition is the record of our faith-family’s obedience. Everything we are and everything we have as Catholics is what they heard and it is what we are hearing even now.

We are united in faith with those who listened.

Yesterday our preacher was a leper. Today he is a man paralyzed. Lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus is teaching, the man is healed b/c he listens to the Word spoken to him. Not just hears but listens—takes in, welcomes in the Word. Hears and obeys. And notice too that Jesus saw the faith of those who brought the man to him. The man is brought to Christ by a crowd of saints, a crowd of those who listened. And it is their faith, the trust of the communion that moves Jesus to speak his healing Word.

Jesus, demonstrating to the scribes his authority as Lord, begins this healing miracle by saying to the paralytic, “I say to you…” You. Just you. Attend to my voice, hear my words, and obey. Listen. “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He hears and obeys—healed by a compelling Word of mercy, the Word who forgives his sins and brings him to faith, making him one of those who listened.

In your dis-ease, your paralysis, to whom do you listen? What word do your obey? You have (freely given) God’s revelation of Himself in scripture, in the magisterial interpretation of the tradition, in creation, and finally and uniquely in Jesus Christ. Who God is to us and for us is right there. What you need loosed can be loosed. What you need bound can be bound. Just listen: Child, your sins are forgiven!

11 January 2007

Stony face = Stony heart?

1st Week OT (Th): Hebrews 3.7-14 and Mark 1.40-45
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


The hardened, unfaithful heart forsakes the living God. What does this mean? What is a hard heart? What is an unfaithful heart? Unlike leprosy, the hard, unfaithful heart is not a medical disease, not a physical condition; it is a spiritual malady, an injury to the covenant between child and the Father, a wreck made of one’s most loving kinship, one’s most desirous bond. An hardened heart cannot beat; a stone pumps no blood. Lifeless, rock-dead, a rigorous heart resists the pliant Spirit, repels the ointments of mercy and love, and fossilizes, grows moss and becomes the cold, moist home of worms and chittering beetles. In less colorful language, brothers and sisters, a hardened heart is deaf to God’s Word, mute to His witness, blind to His wondrous deeds, and numb to the fire of His love.

A stony heart can be made flesh again. How? “A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’” Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand to the man and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Jesus wills that we be made clean. He wills that we be perfected, that we have bold, fleshy hearts pumping blood and Spirit, surging his Father’s love through the Body, pounding into the skeleton and tissue and sinew of his Church the truth of His power, the life of His Way, the health and wealth of His law seared into the muscle of our lively hearts. Be made clean.

And leap and laugh, rejoice and praise God and please, please, please: Look and sound healed! What does your scowl witness to? What does your gritted and grim frown say about the power of God to heal? How do we know that your heart is free when your face is trapped in a penitential grimace? When your words are sour and fuming? When your deeds are selfish and disobedient? The refusal of the Christian to be joyful at his/her redemption is a sacrilege, a willful failure to make one’s life a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit says, “Harden not your hearts in rebellion against my ways.” There is no rest for us there. There is no solace in resistance to the purifying fire of love. And there is no gain for the child of God in refusing to shine out His love, in failing to make one’s every breath, every move, every thought an act of thanksgiving for His mercy. I’m not saying you have to be a grinning idiot to be a good Christian. I am saying that your face, your countenance, your demeanor is a powerful witness to others. What are you saying about God’s presence in your life when you stand perfectly still, perfectly silent? Does a hardened, unfaithful face give voice to a hardened, unfaithful heart?

The healed leper is our saint to imitate! Without shame or hesitation, he begs Jesus’ mercy. He asks to be healed. He is made clean by Christ’s compassion. And what? He mopes around frowning? No! He “immediately publicizes the matter,” spreading abroad his healing at Jesus’ hand. In fact, his witness is so powerful that our poor Savior is forced to flee into the deserted places b/c “people kept coming to him from everywhere.” Driving Jesus into the desert! Now that’s good preaching!

Do not rebel against God’s joy. Do not resist His purifying love. Do not thank Him for His mercy with a penitential grimace. Instead: rejoice! be glad! welcome His passion for us! receive His love, and thank Him by looking like you’ve been redeemed, by acting like you’ve been saved from the fiery pit. Can people point at you and say, “He/she is a friend of Christ”? If not, harden not your hearts and beg for Christ’s cleansing touch.

10 January 2007

Two brief reviews

I received two books in the mail recently from Doubleday...both by NCR(eporter)'s John Allen, Jr.

All the Pope's Men

The Rise of Benedict XVI

I will recommend both as good introductions to difficult subjects: the workings of the Vatican Curia and how God's Rottweiler became Pope Benedict XVI.

Let me say now: I have no love for the NCR. IMHO, it's a rag. And it stands for almost everything horribly gone wrong in the post-VC2 Church. Now, having said that, let me say this--we have a saying in Mississippi about those we don't particularly like. We say, "I wouldn't p*** on him if he was on fire." (You have to imagine the accent!). This was my feeling about John Allen up until just recently. His positive response to the negative criticism of his Ratzinger biography added a huge amount of credibility to his side of the scale for me. So, when I opened the box and found these two books, I didn't immediately bless them with holy water and chunk them in File 13.

All the Pope's Men is the more interesting of the two. The chapter titled "Vatican Theology" is the worth the price of the book. The chapter on the sexual abuse scandals is also quite good. He has two sections outlining the problems the church in Rome has understanding the church in America and vice-versa. The chapter also includes a handy chronology of events for those keeping track. I was very impressed with the section on proposed reforms. Allen manages to fairly navigate this mind field. He reminds us that the great Dominican, Yves Congar, wrote of Church reform: "The great law of a Catholic reformism will be to begin with a return to the principles of Catholicism"(309). Allen adds by way of commentary: "Authentic reform always stresses the need to sentire cum ecclesia--'to think with the Church.' It is a project to be carried out in cooperation with the pastors of the Church, never in struggle against them"(309). Amen, brother!

The Rise of Benedict XVI doesn't entirely avoid the predictable American political descriptive categories that we've come to expect from the MSM when they talk about the Church. Typically, the newly elected Holy Father is seen as a president or a prime minister who is being swept into office with a mandate for change and eager to kick butt and take names of his political enemies. Allen manages to avoid the worst examples of this oversimplification. He still indulges a bit in the media habit of presenting liberal reformers as "progressive" (and therefore "good") and curial officials as "reactionary" or "conservative" (and therefore "bad"). You can come away from this book thinking that the Roman Church teeters on a razor's edge of root and branch revolution but for the unfortunate election of a pious German scholar to the Chair of Peter. Allen's sense of fairness prevents him from being taken in too deeply by these silly, lefty propaganda sound-bites. I was very disappointed in the last chapter of the book. Allen predicts a few areas that will be challenging to the Holy Father. He predicts that B16 will be troubled by the likes of the CTSA and its habitual dissident nagging. And that he will be worried silly by the slowly growing extinct "progressive Catholic women" (a.k.a., "feminist nuns"). Naw, I doubt it.