28 April 2007

SHOCKING (Good) News

3rd Week of Easter (S): Acts 9.31-42 and John 6.60-69
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation and St. Albert the Great Priory


My flesh is true food. My blood is true drink.

This is a hard saying. Who can accept it? Only those brought to the banquet table by the Father. Does this shock you? It should. And perhaps many of you will walk away from Christ unable to find a way through or a way around. Perhaps some of you will return to your former way of life, abandoning the Way for an easier road, one with little danger of failure and no promise of reward. But why would you do this? Why would anyone who has heard the Word Himself speak the words of Spirit and life turn away and walk apart? Why would anyone who has seen the Word Himself heal the sick, raise the dead, and feed the crowds choose a life without him? Jesus answers, “…there are some of you who do not believe.”

My flesh is true food. My blood is true drink. What’s not to believe? What’s not to believe in Jesus’ claim that his flesh and blood, once consumed, provides eternal life? What’s so bizarre about the notion that eating—literally “gnawing”—on the meat of a man and drinking down his blood will infuse one with life eternal? I can’t imagine why anyone then or now would be shocked by this claim! But some were and some are. And they left Jesus and his believing disciples to their weird rites.

Jesus said to his remaining friends: “Do you also want to leave?” Can you see that moment? Can you just imagine the speedy mental and emotional calculations, the frantic grasping at belief and assent that was going on at that half-heartbeat of decision? Jesus isn’t asking them to stay. He’s not asking them to leave. He’s asking them to take hold of the Father’s grant, the Father’s gift of trust, and to commit themselves in a single act of faith, just one fiat, to the preposterous notion that Jesus is the Holy One of God and that they must eat his body and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. And instead of running, screaming into the desert like a normal person probably would, Simon Peter pipes up and answers, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

To whom shall we go? We’re here. So, let’s ask the question this way: to whom have we come? And why? Have we come to hear the words of a wise rabbi? Are we here to hear what he has to say about how to improve our lives using ancient Jewish wisdom? Have we come to hear the rousing rhetoric of revolution? To see stirring images of tyranny’s overthrow? Jesus as war protester, labor organizer, the people’s revolutionary! Have we come to feel the comforting presence of the Lamb, the consoling numbness of mere piety. Or maybe we are here to be affirmed in our uniqueness, our oddity and weirdness; to be confirmed as freakish countercultural misfits whose devotion to religious aracania will revive a love of the transcendental. Maybe. Perhaps.

My flesh is true food. My blood is true drink. To whom have we come? And why? We are not here this morning to revolutionize the Church or to be soothed in our fuzzy devotions or to be enlightened by secret Jewish wisdom. We’re here to eat. We’re here to say to Jesus in word and deed, plainly and without hesitation: “You not only have the words of eternal life—you are the Word of eternal life. Not only do we not want to leave, we want to live with you forever!” And how do we say all of this? Easy. When you come forward for communion, you will be confronted by an astonishing declaration: “The Body of Christ. The Blood of Christ.” Does this shock you? Do you want to leave? No? Alright. Then answer, “Amen.” And not a puny little “amen”! Say AMEN b/c you have been granted the seed of trust by the Father and you have come to believe and to be convinced that Jesus is the Holy One of God and that you are being offered not bread and wine but the Word Made Flesh—his body and blood—offered and given freely for your salvation!

My flesh is true food. My blood is true drink. These are the words of Spirit and life: take and eat.

27 April 2007

Christian Cannibalism Causes Cultural Chaos!

3rd Week of Easter (F): Acts 9.1-20 and John 6.52-59
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation


SECRET DOOMSDAY CULT CANNIBALIZES EXECUTED MESSIAH, CLAIMS IMMORTALITY! The talking-head TV version of this newspaper headline opens with this talking-point: “Religious fanaticism in America today: are your children safe?” Then the talking-heads parade a line of Three-ring Circus Clowns who all demand that the Supreme Court ban religion as a public-safety hazard. The state-owned regulatory nannies and ninnies start squawking like geese frightened on a pond by a gator and before you know it Congress is holding hearings during which otherwise intelligent men and women are asking asinine questions like: “But Bishop, with all due respect, given the recent scandals of the Church, is there a way to tone down your body and blood rhetoric here?”

Maybe we can forgive the routine ignorance of the media and its oftentimes sensationalistic and even hostile portrayal of religious folks, especially Christians in the U.S. Our faith is not easily understood even by those who have been initiated into it and strive with God’s grace to live it day-to-day! And surely we can forgive those in the Church who would have us curb the enthusiasm of Christ’s Eucharistic teaching in today’s gospel. I mean, are we really helping ecumenical efforts at the international and national level by insisting on all this blood and guts imagery? Wouldn’t it be better to focus rather on the more genteel and less violent imagery of bread and wine? These are great symbols of earth and home and harmony and human work. Besides bread and wine helps to keep us focused “down here” on the domestic community rather than “up there” on an inaccessible Big Scary Father-God. Aren’t we here really just to learn to live together and help each other and be at peace with the environment?

No. No, we’re not. We’re here to be saved. We’re here to find the Way and walk it. We’re here to eat the body of Christ, to drink his blood and to share more and more intimately in the workings of the Blessed Trinity in human history. We are here…more literally…”to gnaw” on Christ. Not to nibble daintily or to consume politely but “to gnaw.” That’s the Greek. Gnaw. Now, let me see you gnaw symbolically. For that matter, let me see you gnaw a symbol. Let me see you gnaw on a memory, a memorial, a representation. Let me see you gnaw on an eschatological sign, a prophetic image, a metaphor for “making-present things past.”

The quarreling Jews may have understood better then than we do sometimes now: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” This question actually belies substantial understanding! They understood Jesus to say “flesh.” Meat. Body. And blood. True food and true drink. Not mere symbols. Not just memorial signs. Not mere representational action in history. Not just an “absence of forgetting.” Real food, real drink for eternal life. And this is why they are shocked to hear Jesus teaching what can only be called cannibalism. I don’t think Jesus eases their fears any in the explanation of his baffling claim: “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him…the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” This is astonishingly clear and simple. And outrageously scandalous!

From the beginning we have had immediate access to Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. His real flesh and real blood. We will not eat the bread of our ancestors this morning. We will eat the bread of life from the banquet table of the Father. We will eat…we will gnaw!...as children, heirs, as a people loved, we will feast on immortality so that we may become him whom we eat. There is no other reason for us to be here this morning than this: our transubstantiation into Christ. Just ask Paul: we will not all die, but we will all be changed!

25 April 2007

Dominicans 43 Years Ago: a short film

The friars of the Eastern Dominican Province have posted this great VIDEO from 1964. The film shows portions of a solemn profession liturgy and scenes from the daily life of the studium in D.C. and priory life. The friars wearing habits with black pieces are cooperator brothers. Their unique habit was suppressed in 1968. Lay brothers now wear the same habit as the clerical friars.

Thanks to the EDP friars for posting this! Great history...

Fr. Philip, OP

23 April 2007

Jesus at the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

3rd Week of Easter (M): Acts 6.8-15 and John 6.22-29
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


I don’t think it would surprise anyone here if I were to confess to a certain dedication to the culinary arts, especially the culinary art of eating! I grew up in a family of farmers where nothing went uncelebrated without a meal—usually some sort of deep-fried animal, a large portion of buttered starch, fresh garden veggies, lots of pies and cakes, and huge variety of casseroles made from condensed soups, canned onion rings, and something green or yellow. Obviously, my family’s dinner table is rarely allowed to rest. Likewise, the banquet table of the Lord is always heavily laden, never empty; His altar is always prepped to receive our sacrifice. How like the culinary arts is the art of loving and being loved by God!

Jesus tells those who find him across the sea that they are looking for him not b/c of any miracle he has done but b/c he fed them with loaves of bread. Perfectly understandable: why not follow the guy who can produce from practically nothing food for five thousand with some left over? But Jesus is not complimenting them here on their tenacity or wisdom. In fact, he’s using the occasion to make a point about the heavenly dinner table. He tells them that they have worked hard to find him and the daily loaves he gives them, but the Real Meal, the food that they truly seek will never perish; it will endure and endure for eternal life. Our daily bread fills our bellies, but it will grow stale and moldy over time. The Bread of Life fills our souls, and He is always fresh—freshly eternal, enduring Life!

Thinking back on my family’s dinner table, I have to think all the way back to the gardens we grew. We tilled the ground. Fertilized the soil. Planted the seed. Tended the rows to prevent life-draining weeds. We waited for rain. Harvested what we grew. And ate! Isn’t loving God and being loved by Him exactly like this? Given life as a gift, your ground, you carefully till what you have been given by God with fortitude and patience, so that you are free to receive mulch and water, fertilizer and seed; you are solidly grounded but loose enough to grow. You fertilize your life with powerful nutrients: spiritual reading, study and prayer, a solid life of fellowship and service, and regular sacrifice. God gives you the seeds of faith, hope, and love, planting them with an intense desire that you cultivate them and spread them again as seed in the gardens, the lives around you. Weeds grow even in good soil! You tend to them with regular “weeding,” answering the push of the Holy Spirit and going to confession when the weeds threaten to choke off your growth. You wait for rain, the blessings and graces of God, sent sometimes in torrents, sometimes in sprinkles, sometimes in fits of storms. But always sent. Waiting is the true art of the farmer. Now, it is time to harvest and celebrate, time to collect the benefits of God’s graces and your hard work, time to give thanks and, yes, time to eat!

And so we are here at the banquet table to eat the good fruits of Christ’s work for us. We have little more to do here than believe. That is our work while we are here. Having eaten, we take this enduring food, the Bread of Life, into the world and show everyone what it means to grow fat in Christ! Spiritually skinny Christians aren’t the best spokesmodels for Jesus. We need big, fat models, overweight saints and prophets, men and women grown obese on the Word and ready to preach!

Ours is not a dainty table of delicate snack food or greasy fast food or tasteless frozen food. Ours is the twenty-four hour/seven days a week, all-you-can-eat, ninety-nine cent seafood buffet that we eat with gratitude and in humility and we discover at the end of the night that Christ has already taken care of the bill. Tip included.

22 April 2007

On Neckties and a Vocation to Preaching

My Dominican brother and friend, fra. Bruno Clifton, OP of Blackfriars, Oxford has posted an excellent article on his vocation to the Order of Preachers. Check it out! And spend a bit of time browsing the other excellent reflections on the site. These English Dominicans are a thoughtful bunch. Good singers too.

The English Dominican Studentate website can be found at GODZDOGS. Tell them Philip Neri, OP sent you!

NB. They have to buy me a pint for every hit they get from this site! (They don't know this yet, of course...so, sssshhhhhhh...)

Obey. Worship. Love. Follow.

3rd Sunday of Easter: Acts 5.27-32, 40-41; Rev 5.11-14; John 21.1-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation


The Four Basics. Absolutely basic to the life of the Christian is this defiant declaration made by Peter to the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men.” Absolutely basic to the life of the Christian is the blessed working of the Holy Spirit in all creation, gifted to those who obey God rather men. And absolutely basic to the life of the Christian is the triple salvific confession of Peter to Christ: “You know that I love you, Lord.” (Is this Peter’s tripled anguish over a regretful, tripled doubt?—“No, I do not know him!”) It is basic that we obey God, receive the Holy Spirit, love Christ, and follow him. Four Basics.

These Four Basics correspond to Four Outcries that shout back at despair, disbelief, nihilism, and death. The disciple whom Jesus loves says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” The four living creatures answer, “Amen,” and the elders fall down and worship. Then Jesus asks Peter a third time, “Do you love me?” and Peter says to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And the apostles rejoice at being found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Jesus. It is the Lord! Amen! I love you, Lord! We are worthy to suffer for Christ’s name! Then, and only then, can we follow him.

Obeying God rather than men is fundamental to Christian holiness. The elders of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, had previously ordered the apostles to stop preaching and teaching in Christ’s name. They are afraid of the Romans. Peter tells the Sanhedrin that they, the apostles, have been ordered by Christ to spread the Good News in his name. They can do nothing less than obey the one who died for all of creation. The Jewish elders order them again to be silent. But the Holy Spirit has moved the apostles to speak the Word to the world and they do. They disobey man and obey God. Here we have the Way of Recognition, the means by which the apostles come to understand that the true ruler of creation is God not man. With the beloved disciple they can declare, “It is the Lord!” Preaching the power and glory of the Risen Christ is possible only when we hear and obey God, recognizing his providence by naming Him Lord.

Obeying our Lord rather than men means hearing Him first, listening to Him first and understanding everything else in terms of Who and what we hear. Peter tells the Jewish elders that the Spirit is a witness to the life, death, resurrection of Jesus and that our obedience to God, our “holy listening,” brings to us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Who is this Spirit? The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. This mutual loving, this exchanging of boundless creating power, ancient wisdom, and Revealing Breath is the Spirit; a holy spirit overflowing into and flooding creation, giving life and growth, purpose and cause. The Holy Spirit witnesses, strengthens, inspires, builds up, intercedes, guides, sets ablaze in zeal, purifies, glorifies, and most essentially, loves. And for this gift of Trinitarian passion, we say everything when we shout, “Amen!” So be it! Yes, it is! “Amen” is the Spirit talking to the Spirit out of our mouths. Your “amen” then must show the passion of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father. Your “amen” must strengthen and inspire, glorify and praise, set fire to hearts grown cold and guide the lost in obedience to God. A weak, mumbled, half-hearted and distracted “amen” is worse than a curse! At least a curse never claims to invoke the Spirit, while a mewly “amen” is stingy praise from an ungrateful heart. So, when you say “amen” say, “AMEN!” Amen?!

If we obey God rather than men, we receive the Holy Spirit, who is the Love btw Father and Son, and we proclaim our gratitude for His Love by lending our voices to the one word that commits our hearts and minds to the love that amazes all creation: amen! And when we shout our amen with passion and conviction, with trust in the promises of God, we step closer to the living ideal of love that is the Father’s Son, Christ Jesus. In other words, we come closer and closer to the kind of death that will glorify God, the death of sacrificial love that Christ died for us. Given this, how do we not say, “I love you, Lord”? Like Peter, no doubt, we said in the garden, “Jesus who? Don’t know him. Sorry.” Like Peter, no doubt, we have denied him and heard the rooster crow at sunrise. No doubt, like Peter, we sit here now in anguished regret about each time we have said “no,” each time we said “later,” each time we said “Jesus who?” But Jesus shows us the power of mercy, the strength to be found in forgiveness, by asking Peter three times, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” Three times for each denial in the garden. Three times to confess and repair his fear, his betrayal, his cowardice. Like Peter, no doubt!, we too are given one time to repent for each time we have sinned against God’s love for us. Where is there room for anguish in a life stuffed full of trust in God’s mercy? Where is there room for distress in a life where Christ himself looks you in the eye and asks, “Do you love me?” What else do you say but, “It is the Lord. Amen! I do love you, Lord.”

And surely you know by now, having been through Lent, Holy Week, the Triduum, and Easter morning, you must know by now that loving Christ and being loved by him is a gift, a freely given passion for your life, your holiness, your final end. But what sort of gift is this love? The apostles rejoice at being found worthy to suffer dishonor for his name’s sake. What does it mean to suffer for Christ’s name? Pain is not suffering. Pain is pain. Suffering is how we choose to understand pain. Suffering is how we come to define, to make us of, to “stand under” physical hurt and give it meaning. The apostles here are coming to “stand under” their injuries, the injustices done to them, in the spirit of Christ’s redemptive suffering for all of us. They are not simply being persecuted by political/religious enemies. They are walking the Sorrowful Way to the Cross as Christ did. And freely accepting Christ’s love IS freely accepting his death. We are not called to love alone but to follow as well. It is not enough to praise, to preach, to heal, to love in his name; we must die too…in his name. “Follow me,” he says, and then he walks closer to the Cross. Can you suffer this well? Can you “stand under” his love for you and rejoice on the way to your Cross? Will you be found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of his name?

Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep. So, Peter feeds us his trust, his honor, his repentance and contrition. He also feeds us his life in love when he is martyred in Rome. We are constantly fed by the Body and Blood of our Living Christ, fed in and through his Church with and through his apostles and priests; we are fed at the altar of sacrifice, the banquet table of God’s infinite bounty. He shows us His love at this altar and demands our repentance at our family’s table. It is not enough to praise, to bless, to preach, to work in mercy; we must love, we must repent of our disobedience, and we must follow him freely to a death, to a life that glorifies God in all things. Every word, every movement, every thought—given wholly, freely, thankfully to God.

Worthy is He to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing! Amen!