27 January 2007

Death of an Old School Master

I recently heard that Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP of the Central Dominican Province died this last Tuesday (1/23). I never had the pleasure of meeting fra. Jordan, but I am very familiar with his work. Two of his most important books are on-line: Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition and Spiritual Theology. Both of these books are excellent examples of Christian spirituality done well. So much of what passes for "spirituality" these days is New Age junk--Ennegram (astrology with numbers instead of stars), reiki (massaging your "energy points" with a "spirit guide"), yoga, labyrinths, psychobabble, mini-Zen gardens, aromatherapy, blahblahblah...If you want to see how Catholic spirituality is done Old School Baby, take a look at fra. Jordan's books. You won't be disappointed.

Love is cruel, possessive, & easily angered

4th Sunday OT: Jer 1.4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12.31-13.13; and Luke 4.21-30
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul Hospital
and Church of the Incarnation


A Reading from the Unholy Gospel of St. Narcissus…

Praise be to me and me alone!

My wretched Slaves and convenient Tools, you have heard that love is patient and kind, forgiving and humble; that those who love seek the good for the Other and rejoice in the truth. You have heard many things about the world that will not serve you well. And among these is the foolish sentiment that love is anything but Selfishness writ large across the Ego—a passion that will not be saddled and ridden like a domesticated tiger but loosely bridled and allowed its furious run. Love is impatient for love in return. Love is cruel because it must end. Love cannot be generous or polite. It is a passion, obsessive, possessive, and rude. Love is a grandiose tale, a violent power, a torrent of abusive lies aimed at your tender heart. Love has a temper and most certainly nurses hurt. Love will bear nothing, believe nothing, hope nothing, and endure even less. Love fails. My face in a gilded mirror tells the truth of love: distrust, despair, delusion. Love is vengeance on the weak for being vulnerable to need. Need nothing, want nothing. Be strong! And heal yourself. Enlighten yourself. Give yourself peace. Save yourself. Build idols to your silenced need and keep control. Finally, Slaves and Tools, remember and act: love is a desperate ruse, a way to see you bowed. If you must love, love my god…love Me.

This is the Gospel of St. Narcissus!

If I wanted to preach an unholy homily on the vices of love, I couldn’t do much better than to proclaim this gospel of St Narcissus and point out to you that, though we would deny the truth of this passage if pressed, most of us have experienced love as our impious saint has described it. Hurt. Loss. Aggravation. Passion given but not returned in kind. There is often a disordered feel to the way we love, a shaky balance to the way we will the good for the other. And why? When we love, why do we sometimes sense the presence of our unholy evangelist and his nasty gospel of ego-bloated cynicism? Paul is clear: love is the greatest spiritual gift. Love is a gift. A passion with which we are graced. Think of a green tea bag releasing its brew into a cup of hot water. God diffuses His love through us, infusing us with the best routine, the most excellent exercise of doing the good for everyone around us—the virtue of charity.

In an act of astonishing charity, Jesus stands in the synagogue, reads the messianic prophecy from Isaiah, and tells those listening that he is the Messiah of Isaiah’s prophet vision. They are amazed at his graciousness, at his generosity in revealing who he is. But they quickly turn skeptical when they realize that Jesus is a local-boy-made-prophet. His credibility teeters on the edge of the crowd’s fickle attention as Jesus attacks before he can be attacked. Essentially, he says, “Now I bet you’re gonna want me to do some miracle for you to prove who I am. Prophets are never accepted in their own hometowns.” He cites Elijah in Sidon and Elisha in Israel as prophets who were sent to lands and peoples other than their own to perform miraculous healings. Prophets wander, yes; but they wander at God’s command, His initiative—not their own! In effect, Jesus is refusing to prove to them through miracles that he is who he says he is. He is, therefore, a blasphemer and a rebel. The crowd pushes him to cliff to send him to his death. But Jesus safely passes through them and leaves Nazareth never to return.

Consistent with Jesus’ reluctance to prove anything with supernatural performances, he instead calls on those who hear his words to listen carefully to that spot, that space, that empty room in their souls where he would dwell, to listen carefully to their God-gifted desire for a divine life, to their God-gifted longing for healing, to their God-gifted need for rescue…to listen to his word, and let his Word call them to him. It is Love Himself to calls to their (and to our!) emptiness, our desolation, our grief, and frustration. No miracle can prove the satisfaction one feels at having been made clean, washed pure. No miracle will confirm or deny the electric truth of having been touched by the creating and re-creating Word of the Father—to see and hear and feel and smell the undiluted passion of our God for His creation, to taste His body and blood and know that Love became one of us, died as one of us, rose from his grave for us; and now, with wholly perfected charity, he sits in judgment on our obedience and on our yet to be quenched thirst for eternal joy.

Love judges you…so, be found at the time of judgment loving, rejoicing, believing, hoping, enduring. Love never fails us and we cannot fail in Love.

But we do fail without Love. Paul says that we are just noisy gongs without love, meaningless racket. That without love we gain nothing from our poverty and willing surrender. And the scariest of all—even with faith enough to shift mountains, we ARE nothing without love. Gifts of tongues, wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, all these gifts will cease; they are incomplete, partial-- “when the perfect comes the partial will pass away.” Like a racing wind, what we do and say and build and write without love will pass into the heated desert and evaporate. Faith, hope, and love will remain “but the greatest of these is love.”

Do you hear the gospel of Christ or the gospel of St. Narcissus? Which do you follow? Is your life in the faith joyful? Does being a follower of Jesus make you happy? Do you feel compelled to serve others? Can you release fear and anxiety and throw yourself on the promises of God? Are you angry, afraid, impatient, cruel, rude? Do you take your spiritual lessons from day-time TV and practice the saccharine self-help arts? Are you a spiritual athlete running to holiness under your own power, bypassing the weaker brethren and waving with self-sufficient pride as you pass? Do you believe that you invent your truth? Your right and wrong? Do you gamble against hope? Look for evidence to believe? Endure b/c failure is socially embarrassing? When your priest preaches on love, do you think he’s weak or liberal or mushy theologically? Do you think he ought to spend more time telling those sinners over there to Stop It! But Father, there are politicians, bishops, theologians, Catholic professors who need to be called out for the scandals they’re causing! No doubt. Can they look to you for a good example of how to love themselves back toward holiness and truth? Or will they learn from you, from me how to be quick-tempered, brooding, rude, and unloving?

If you know everything there is to know; if you ooze wisdom from your skin; if you prophesy in the Holy Spirit with 100% accuracy; if you sell everything, give the money to the poor, and surrender completely to God, running around butt-naked and broke; if you do all this and you do not love—you have gained nothing b/c you are nothing.

To be loved by God is life; to love b/c He loved us first is living. And so, preach this gospel: our God never fails—bear all things with Him, believe all things in Him, hope for all things from Him, and…endure, endure, endure. God never fails. God is Love. Love never fails.

26 January 2007

Bold Lambs Among the Wolves

Ss. Timothy and Titus: 2 Tim 1.1-8 and Luke 10.1-9
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation


Good morning, Lambs! And if there are any wolves here dressed in lamb’s wool, good morning to you as well! Our Lord has sent us, the Lambs, to bring to those who need him his freedom and care. He has sent us out to bawl and bark the Word of the Father’s mercy to us—to frighten the spirits of illness and turmoil, to unnerve and expose the agents of spiritual slavery and vice. Our Lord has sent us out as teachers of a powerful Way, and charged us with not only talking about him and his Good News to others but he has also charged us with being him and his Good News for others. It is not enough to whisper the stories of his healing miracles or sing the stories of his travels with his merry band of brothers. Our Lord did not send us among the wolves to teach them history or biography; he did not send us among the unbelieving to entertain them with scripts and skits. We are sent out, cast away like ripening seed, to spread like kudzu and crab grass, a sincere faith, a confident trust in the truth of the Father’s gift of mercy.

And it is for this reason, Lambs, that I remind you to stir into flame the gifts of God that you have received through your baptism, the graces of the Spirit that came to you in your dying and rising again in Christ. Paul teaches Timothy that God did not give the Apostles a spirit of cowardice but one of power and love and temperance. Through the imposition of his hands on Timothy, Paul laid on him a spirit, a trust, a commission, a witness; he laid on Timothy’s heart and mind a new way of being Timothy in the world, a more perfect Way of being Christ for others and all. And there is no room in the Christ-crowded heart for cowardice or guile, for ignorance or deceit, for flinching from hardship in His service or running from surrender to His will.

Therefore, do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord! Go on your way and proclaim the marvelous works of our God to all the wolves, all the unclean spirits, all the sick, injured, lost, beaten, imprisoned, and cast-out; to all the beautiful, the rich, the wise, the well-connected; all the overeducated, the comfortable, those captive to their stunted religious imaginations and those deluded by error and dissent. Take nothing with you but the Spirit given you b/c there is nothing you can take along that matters more than Christ himself. What you need is given as you need it, provided out of the abundance and generosity of those to whom you bring the Word. Bring your witness to them and listen to their witness to you. What you might need most at that moment is a Word of power spoken to your fainting heart…

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gifts of God that you have received through your baptism! Timothy and Titus, made bishops by the laying on of hands, received the gift of ecclesial leadership—teaching, preaching, governing—and they spread the seeds of Christ’s Good News everywhere their beautiful feet took them! Not all of us are called to be bishops. Most of us are called to do something far more difficult: to be Christ where we find ourselves; to be powerful witnesses to the transformative power of love and mercy; to be lambs speaking the truth among wolves who demand that we lie in order to live peacefully among them. Praise God that you have been made clean, washed spotless and bright in the waters of baptism. Praise God that you have not been given a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and love and temperance. Praise God for His banquet table, His altar of thanksgiving, where we eat and drink all that we need to do what He has asked to do and to be who He has made us to be.

Do not be ashamed of your testimony among the wolves! Shout out what Christ has done for you and dare the wolves to bare a single fang in defiance of that truth. We owe the wolves nothing but truth, b/c in the end, it’s all we have to give them.

22 January 2007

Day of Penance for Roe v. Wade

Day of Penance for Violations Against Human Dignity Caused by Abortion (GIRM 373)
Philippians 4.6-9 and Matthew 5.1-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


Is there anyone here this morning who wants to be among the damned? Anyone? Anyone here who wants to wallow in cynicism, grievance, betrayal, or viciousness? Anyone? OK. Anyone here this morning who wants to celebrate falsehood, injustice, ugliness, or disease? Anyone? No? OK. Anyone here this morning who wants to be among the blessed? Anyone here who wants to revel in hopefulness, forgiveness, friendship, and virtuousness? Anyone where this morning who wants to celebrate truth-telling, justice-making, beauty, and health? Anyone? Good! Because today we observe a Day of Penance for those violations of human dignity caused by abortion. And we must start by repenting from any inclination to understand the human person as a means; any inclination to treat one another as merely objects for use any inclination to live together in cynicism, malice, or irrational prejudice. To be blessed, we must be a blessing and do what is honorable, just, pure, and gracious…and always in the name of God for His greater glory. Turn from the disobeying our Father’s command that we love one another as He loves us, as He loved us first, and make your life about the excellence of self-emptying service!

You might ask: Father, why are you yelling at us about repenting from abortion? We’re solid pro-lifer’s! I don’t doubt this. So, let me answer your question with a question: why are we, the pro-life Church, observing a Day of Penance in reparation for the devastation of abortion? The answer: if we don’t, who will? Who will stand up to repair this gaping wound in our social body? Who, if not the Church, will offer sacrifice for the healing of this horrific disease?

You raised your hands when I asked who here wants to celebrate beauty, justice, and health. How do you celebrate God’s beauty in creation? His justice in our social order? His health in your spiritual life? Irrelevant questions to the repentance at hand? NO! If you, a faithful Catholic, one who deeply desires the peace of Christ, cannot honor the fullness of human dignity— the sacredness of all life, the intrinsic value of human labor, our right to be free from violence and intimidation (personal and political)—if we cannot honor the fullness of human dignity, then we cannot celebrate God’s beauty, His justice, nor can we expect His health. And what’s more, we cannot hold others to a standard we’re unwilling to meet.

Abortion sits at the center of our cynical culture as a devastating failure to love, an idol to convenience, expediency, and self-indulgence. To the degree that we as Catholics have contributed to this failure to love, especially in our failure to love the women who have chosen abortions, we must repent. There is nothing gracious, lovely, pure, or true about cynically judging women who have chosen abortions. And there is nothing blessed about dismissing the killing of a child with an appeal to privacy rights or religious tolerance. Love requires us to speak the truth. And when we fail to speak the truth, we must repent. The truth is: abortion is the direct killing of innocent life. We may never call this violation of human dignity good. The truth is: the Way to forgiveness and peace is always open, always free, and we, as self-identified Christs-for-Others, we must serve as eager ushers on the Way. We cannot at once hope to be blessed and refuse to be a blessing.

You are to be hungry for justice. Clean of heart. At peace. Kind. And you must be ready, always ready to speak a word comfort in truth. You have been shown mercy, therefore, show mercy in thanksgiving. And be blessed.

21 January 2007

Can you say, "I am Christ"?

3rd Sunday OT: Neh 8.2-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12.12-14, 27; Luke 1.1-4; 4.14-21
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX


If I were to ask you this morning: who are you? How would you answer? Most of you would give me a name. Bob. Sue. Gladys. Some of you would add a job or career description: George, an accountant. Barbara, a nurse. Some of you might even throw in a relationship descriptor. Linda, clerk and mother of three boys. Harold, postal worker and grandfather. What else could you add? Your hometown; your parish; a bit of family history; maybe a quick medical run-down. All of these descriptors—name, job, relationships, history—all of those pick us out of the herd, I mean, they identify you as you. These are differences about us that distinguish us from them, you from me, me from them and so on. Oh, and you would likely throw in there somewhere that you are a Christian. So, let me ask: who are you as a Christian? How does this descriptor pick you out, make you different?

The reading from Nehemiah tells us something about what it means to be a faithful member of a faith-filled group. Ezra, a priest, brings out the book of the law and reads aloud. The assembly—men, women, children—listen to the law being read. We read twice in the space of four lines that the assembly is made up of men, women, and children old enough to understand. This group is picked out not by sex or age but by its attentiveness to Ezra’s reading of the book of law. They hear and listen. And then Ezra shows them the book, opening the scroll “so that all the people might see it.” They stand. And with one voice—as a people—they raise their hands, shouting “Amen, amen!” They bow. They prostrate. They fall to the ground on their faces. They weep. And then they receive instruction from Nehemiah himself. He tells them not to weep for today is holy; instead go feast because rejoicing in the Lord is their strength.

Pay careful attention! Those faithful people—men, women, children—gather; listen to the Word read aloud; receive instruction; accept an invitation to a great feast; and together they hear: to give glory and praise to the Lord, to offer Him rejoicing and thanksgiving must be their strength! Let me break that down for you: rejoicing in the Lord is how we must endure; giving God thanks and praise is how we must persevere. This is not muddling through til we die. This is not just one step after another until we drop. Today is holy to our Lord! Rejoice, give thanks, praise His name and continue on: persist, stick with it, keep going. Weep, rage, laugh, cuss, pitch a fit, flop around on the ground screaming if you must—but it is in rejoicing that you will find the strength to endure.

Those who survive while praising the Lord stand out. Those who succeed while praising the Lord distinguish themselves. But what does this have to do with being Christian? Paul writes to the Corinthians that the church is one body with many parts; one body made up of Jews, Greeks, slaves, and freed men who are no longer Jews, Greek, slaves, or freed men. Because they have all been baptized into one body and because all have drunk of one Spirit, what they were before is no more. Now—together—they are Christ’s body, working at Christ’s work, praising his Word, healing his people, feeding the hunger, finding the lost, enlightening the ignorant, together being the hands and feet of Christ. These former Jews, Greeks, slaves, and freed men survive and succeed b/c they stand out as living, breathing, fleshy machines of mercy and service, blood and bone engines of charity and freedom. They drink from one Holy Spirit, give body and soul to the only Son, and offer filial obedience to one Father. They know Christ and they know his will and they do his will to become Christ.

If I were to ask you this morning: who are you? How would you answer? Would answer, “I am Christ”? Can those words fall from your lips w/o blushing, w/o qualification? For you, for me, for any of us to admit—“I am Christ”—we must first know who Christ is. We must answer the question: who does Christ say that he is?

Luke’s gospel this morning teaches us that Jesus is the anointed one; the one upon whom the Spirit rests; the one chosen to bring joy to the poor, liberty to slaves, sight to the blind, and to set free those oppressed. We know this b/c Luke reports that Jesus goes to his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath and reads aloud from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah a description of the Messiah. When he has finished reading the passage, he sits down. All in the synagogue are watching him. He says to those gathered, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” He says to them (in effect), “I am the Christ, the Anointed One from the Lord.” Can you imagine the surprise? The anger? The shock and awe? The relief? What did those who heard this proclamation think? Here is a hometown boy who reads from Isaiah’s prophecy a description of the Messiah and then claims that in hearing the description read aloud that the prophecy is fulfilled! This man is the one promised by the prophets? Can you listen and not believe?

And notice that it is in hearing Jesus read the prophecy that the prophecy is fulfilled. Open ears. Open eyes. Listen, see. Remember the people gathered before Ezra to hear the law read, to see the book opened. They hear, listen, see, and rejoice, finding their strength in praise: Your words, O Lord, are spirit and life! They find their strength and we find ours.

Who are you? Will you say, “I am the Christ”? Does this identify you as a Christian? Does this proclamation pick you out as someone wholly given to God? Does it make you queasy to admit such a thing? It’s a big job being a Messiah. Huge job. But your part is one part in the Body of Christ. Your part is the one part you are alone are gifted to complete. You, like the rest of us, will shine out the face of Christ to all who will listen and see. You will do it uniquely. And in so doing, God’s love will be perfected in you. Will you get it wrong sometimes? Yes. Fail? Yes. Refuse to be Christ for others? Of course. And so will we. We will ignore the poor, teach falsehood, fail to free captives, leave the blind blind, the lame lame. We will embarrass the Church, dissent in order to commit our favorite sins, blow off our tradition and history, ridicule legitimate authority. We will sin. And when we do, we then become the blind in need of sight, the lame in need of healing, the captives in need of freedom, the oppressed in need of liberation. In sin, we become those for whom the Christ came.

There is one Body, many parts. One Christ, many christs. Who are you? Who will you free today? Who will you heal? Who will you feed, clothe, comfort, visit? The Spirit of the Lord is upon you because He has anointed you to do His work. Find your strength in praising the Lord. Stand out as men and women given wholly to God. And serve the broken, the lost, and the fallen. Be a Christian. Better yet: be Christ!