24 May 2007

Your prayers, please...

I am back in Irving! The annual provincial assembly went extremely well. It was a most unusual meeting of the brothers of the Southern Province.

I would ask your prayers for the province as we continue to discern our way with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May we open ourselves to all those changes necessary to grow and thrive as preachers of the Gospel.

I would ask your prayers for me personally. I have been presented with an opportunity and a substantial challenge. Both will require me to spend lots of time seeking the Spirit's voice and straining to hear how He is wanting me to respond. There is a fundamental question of obedience here and the paths to take lead to radically different places. . .I need wisdom!

God bless, Fr. Philip, OP

P.S. Since my prior is away at a meeting and not around to chastise me, let me mention again that my birthday is May 26th. My Wish List is fully functioning and recently updated to reflect some of my new reality. I am deeply grateful for all the books I receive!

21 May 2007

Plain talk about Jesus, or "Come on, baby, light my fire"

7th Week of Easter (M): Acts 19.1-8 and John 16.29-33
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory


Let’s speak plainly this morning about Jesus and his Father. Late last week Jesus is talking to the disciples about his Father and about what he, Jesus, is preparing himself to do in the coming days. He says to his friends, “I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” The first movement here—coming from the Father into the world—we call the Incarnation and celebrate at Christmas. The Son of God is made man. The second movement—leaving the world and going back to the Father—we call the Ascension and we celebrated it just yesterday on Ascension Sunday. The Son of God is taken up into heaven. So what? Plainly speaking: why do these two movement matter to us? Let’s see.

Today the disciples respond to Jesus’ plain spokeness with a simple admission of their own. They say (paraphrasing): “Now that you’ve stopped using figures of speech to teach us, we know that you know everything and that we don’t need to test you anymore. We believe that you come from God.” And here’s the kind of question that Jesus loves to ask: “Oh really? Do you believe now? Do you?” He asks this question b/c he knows why he came. He knows the trials that lie ahead. And he knows that his disciples will have to follow him through those trials—not immediately, not even soon, but eventually—they will have to follow him in order to call themselves “followers of the Way.”

Knowing his end and that they must follow, he asks, “Do you believe now?” Well, they believe that they believe! Jesus predicts that when his hour arrives their belief will leave them and that they will leave him, scattering to their homes. He says to them, “You will leave me alone.” This bit of news can’t be very comforting for his disciples! Is he accusing them of being cowards?! Jesus eases their anxiety: “But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.”

In Christ we find perfect divinity and perfect humanity; he is fully human and fully divine. Two natures, one person. Son of God made Man. This is the Incarnation. If all things human are to be healed in Christ, then Christ must become all things human. The imperfect cannot heal the imperfect. If Christ becomes all things human in order to heal all things human, then he must also be fully divine. Only the perfect heals the imperfect. When we unite the gift of our lives with the gift of his sacrifice, our lives become a sacrifice as well and his love is made complete in us. We will follow him not of any necessity—we are saved by the cross and the empty tomb, not by our works!—but b/c having God’s love perfected in us makes us Christ. And Christ has risen to the Father, ascended to His right hand. Though he was beaten, crucified, and buried—by all accounts, defeated by injustice and death—he rose from the grave, lived among his friends, and ascended to his Father: a victory over the world and the fulfillment of his promise to us that we too will live with him forever when we rise on the last day.

His peace, the certainty of his success, eases our troubled hearts. But there is no guarantee in his peace that we will not face the same hour he faced. In fact, we are promised persecution, trial, and death. We cannot follow half-way or only follow those paths that run straight, wide, and downhill. Ask Peter or Paul or Andrew. Ask any of the Church’s martyrs. Ask our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in the Sudan, China, Vietnam, most anywhere in the Middle East. To follow Christ always brings peace; Christ’s peace does not always put an end to strife.

Do you still believe? Speak plainly then of the One who saved you. Do not fret over abandoning him. He is never alone. He is with the Father always. . .as we are and will be. Be ready for his fiery gift. Be ready for the conflagration that sets all of creation ablaze. . .

20 May 2007

Why are you looking at the sky?

The Ascension of the Lord (C): Acts 1.1-11; Eph 1.17-23; Luke 24.46-53
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation and St. Paul Hospital Chapel


[Fair warning: this is actually about three homilies in one. . .sorry.]

No one will accuse Paul of being a fuzzy dreamer. He is not known for his abstract idealism. Later on in his letter to the Ephesians, he exhorts the new Christians of Ephesus: “I plead with you, as a prisoner of the Lord, to live a life worthy of the calling you have received, with perfect humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another lovingly…” Pretty words. Beautiful sentiment. But highly impractical, if not dangerous, for the Church! Besides, who can achieve this level of perfection now? Who can walk such a narrow path so confidently? Clearly, Paul is wishing out loud here, or at best he’s violating our image of him and exercising a bit of his never before seen idealism. He’s just setting the bar for us, calibrating the ideal soul for us to look to for guidance as we struggle along. And it’s not really clear how we are to achieve this perfect humility, meekness, and patience. What does he have to say about method or technique or first principles? It’s one thing, dear Paul, to show us an end, a goal. It’s quite another to teach us the means to that goal! Show us how…

And Paul would say here: “Oy vey! Have you been paying attention the last couple of months? Have you been listening to the readings, the prayers of the Church? Have you noticed the sequence of events since we entered the desert with Christ forty days before he suffered and died for us?” And we might respond: “Well, Paul, we’ve been paying attention…kinda, sorta. We’ve had Lent and Good Friday and Easter…lots and lots of Easter…weeks and weeks of Easter! But you’re avoiding our question. What do the readings and prayers of the Mass, the sequence of events since the desert have to do with your crazy dream that we live lives of perfect humility, meekness, etc., etc.?” At this point, we might imagine poor Paul hanging his head, but being the excellent teacher that he is, he asks instead: “Who have you been these last few months? Who are you becoming? And who will you be at last?” Uh?! we say. That’s right: who have you been? Who are you becoming? And who will you be at last?

In a homily on Ascension Sunday, Augustine asked his congregation: “Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now…?” He goes on: “While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth we are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.” How? Why was the Son made flesh? Why did he become sin for us? Why did he suffer and die? To make good theatre? To fulfill some mythical Jewish prophecy? Entertainment for a cruel god? How can we down here be up there with Christ in love? Who have you been? Who are you becoming? And who will you be at last?

Let’s remember where we are in our history: the Holy Spirit announces to Mary that she will bear the Word into the world. She says, “Yes.” Elizabeth bears the Christ’s herald, John, and he is born to call our hearts to attention. Jesus is born. He is presented to the Father in the temple as the first fruit of Mary and Joseph. He is baptized by his herald and the Father declares him to be the Christ. He chooses his students. He teaches them his gospel. He preaches and heals; he feeds and frees; he shakes the foundation stones and breaks the temple gates. He draws hungry souls and repels the self-righteous. He casts out demons and forgives sinners. He goes to the mountain, the river, the sea, and the desert. And there he is given the chance to abandon us, to leave us to our humane mess. Without bending his back or lifting a finger, he picks up his cross, saying, “Yes” to his Father’s will for him and for us all. Lent. On a donkey he rides like a king into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday. There he is betrayed, tried, betrayed again, abandoned, whipped, ridiculed, spiked to a cross, mocked as he bleeds, and dies. He is buried. Holy Week and Triduum. And Mary Magdalene finds his grave empty three days later. He is risen from the dead. Easter morning. Knowing his disciples are fretful, he finds a few of them on the road to Emmaus and reveals himself again, spending forty days with them. Blessing them a final time, he is taken up; he ascends into heaven so that all of us may be lifted up with him. But for now, we wait until the promised Spirit descends! And the church is born. Born once of Mary. Born again from the Spirit. And yet again—now—from the womb of your YES. Christ’s body is born.

In case you’ve forgotten: who have you been since Ash Wednesday? Who are you becoming? And who will you be at last?

Perfect humility, meekness, and patience. In his letter to the Ephesians this morning, Paul bestows a blessing. We receive from God the Father: wisdom and revelation; knowledge of Jesus the Christ; eyes and hearts enlightened to see and know his hope, the wealth of His glory; to share in the inheritance of the holy ones, the exceeding greatness and generosity of His power for all who believe. And here is what the Spirit says that we need to hear in this blessing right now: Jesus is ascended into heaven to take his place of honor with the Father; he is given a place above “every principality, authority, power, dominion and every name that is named” in all ages past, this age, and in every age to come. And in rising to the Father, the Father has “put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body…” Perfect humility, meekness, and patience then are not passive virtues that leave us vulnerable in the world. They are habits of being that rise out of the rule of Christ in our lives. Does true strength need to exercise its muscle? Does true power need to show itself in action? Does true authority balk at being patient? No. Perfect humility, meekness, and patience mark us as belonging to Christ. As his slaves, we live his life and die his death and rise in his resurrection and we ascend, we ascend as his Body—one promise, one blessing, one Spirit—living, dying, rising, ascending in Christ, with Christ, as Christ.

Ah! There it is. There it is. As Christ. That’s the “how” of Paul’s dreaming and Augustine’s wonder. Let’s see: who have you been? Christ. Who are you becoming? Christ. And who will you be at last? Christ. Christ is your past, your present, and your future. Christ is who you have been all along; are right now; and will be when all of this is done. When you rejoice, your joy is Christ. When you suffer, your pain is Christ. When you fall, your bruises are Christ. When you stand again, your height, your dignity is Christ. And when you accept the Spirit of Love, your Word, your deed, every breath, every motion, every stir of air and eddy of scent is Christ. His ascension into heaven draws us up. His Body, all of us, his Body is drawn up and, on our way there, we are pulled into his worship, his joy, and we drink from his blessing cup for our healing and health.

Why are we looking at the sky? Christ has ascended to the Father and now, for now, we wait. We know that God loves us to change us. We know that we are transfigured in His love. The New You waits for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He is risen! And as Christ so will we all be raised.