08 August 2007

Skilled in Love?

Solemnity of St. Dominic, Vespers: Philippians 1.3-8
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

We begin with an innocent question: are you skilled in love? Do you possess the distinguishing talents, the connoisseur’s gifts for hunting, finding, and cultivating love? If so, Paul is writing to you on this evening feast of St. Dominic, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion…” In fact, he is writing to all of us who are skilled in love, promising us the achievement of the Good Work, a sterling finish to the gospel race we have vowed to run. If we are to be graced love-makers, committed craftsman of our Lord’s saving charity—looking to our Dominican brothers and sisters: Jordan, Thomas, Catherine, Rose, Martin, fra. Angelico, Margaret, Lacordaire—if we are to light even the smallest fire among the wet woods of this wearying world, we will imprison our hearts and minds in the gracious, re-creating Word, defending and confirming with every word we speak the Good News of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no joy for us in anything less. Our fiery brother, Savonarola, preached the Lord’s Passion, saying, “Our preaching will be refined and not refined, yet everyone can receive it, particularly those skilled in love. Those who are not skilled will know their distance from Love.” And that distance we must make our own and then travel to those who do not yet know Love. Our sister, Catherine of Siena, preached this ministry, saying, “The soul in love with [the Lord’s] truth never ceases to be of service in a small enough way to all the world…” Surely, it is a small enough way for us to walk, gifted as we are with the work of preaching Christ Jesus and skilled in nothing less than giving voice and volume to the advent of our Father’s Kingdom! We can find those who do not yet know Love even when we ourselves forget to love, forget to be Love. From our long history, we Dominicans know that it is never enough for us merely to preach. We must be the preaching—with all our anxieties, human quirks, tongue-tied failures, and even the occasional cold heart. The sacred preaching is never just an imitation of Dominic. We do not channel Hyacinth or Peter of Verona from the pulpit. Love shapes each voice of the Word given the nature of the tongue that speaks it, so that all the syllables of the Gospel will find their artful expression. And all those skilled in love will hear One Word, One Voice, One Herald of the Good News.

Lord, on this solemn feast of our Holy Father, Dominic, free us from the silent death of fear and worry and jail us in your saving Word. Bring to perfection the Good Work you have begun in us and take us with ready hands and hearts to serve those who are not yet skilled in your Love. Amen.

06 August 2007

The Promise of God, All in All

The Transfiguration: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; 2 Pet 1.16-19 & Luke 9.28-36
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Listen here!

We can be transmogrified, transfinalized, transignified, transubstantiated, transferred, transfiliated, transported, and transposed. And we might even know exactly what happens to us when each of these occur. But to be transfigured somehow seems to move us—flesh and bone that we are—into the purely literary, pushing us into metaphor, not that we are speaking metaphorically but that we become that sort of figure that is changed, that sort of shaped-drawing that can be erased or redrawn. To be transfigured then is to be altered as a kind of expression, a “figure of speech” adjusted in use. No, that’s wrong. Thank God, that’s wrong! We might “trans” a “figure” when we re-write a metaphor in a poem or shift around a neat rhetorical phrase, but we do not celebrate this morning a literary event in the life of Christ. We celebrate nothing less than the revelation of the glory of God and the confirmation by Christ himself that his suffering and death would bring his faithful to the his Father’s Kingdom. The Preface of the Mass for the Transfiguration reads, “[Christ] revealed his glory to the disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the cross. His glory shone from a body like our own, to show that the Church, which is the body of Christ, would one day share his glory.”

Keep in mind: the life, ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus is a living revelation of the Father’s plan for the completion of human history. Christ, therefore, as a person, is the efficacious revelation of the persons of the Trinity in history; he is, in other words, a “divine showing” that accomplishes what he shows.

What does Jesus show the apostles on Mt. Tabor and what does this showing accomplish? Christ’s transfiguration occurs a week after the conversation he had with the apostles about who people were saying that he, Jesus, really is. Predictably, Jesus was thought to be any one of the many prophets of the Old Covenant. Peter, however, confesses the true faith of the church, “You are the Christ, the Anointed One.” Christ then predicts his passion and death, warning his friends that they too would follow him in his suffering and glory. Rather omniously, Jesus says, “I tell you truthfully, there are some of those here who will not taste death before they have seen God’s kingdom.” The Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor is the fulfillment of that messianic promise.

Here we are in 2007. What does the Transfiguration mean now? It means exactly what it did 2,000 years ago…and more. Our Holy Father, Benedict, in his recent exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum caritatis, makes an astonishing claim for the power of the Eucharist. He writes, “[In the Eucharist,]…we enter into the very dynamic of [Christ’] self-giving. Jesus ‘draws us into himself.’ The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of ‘nuclear fission,’…which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all”(SacC 11). Pope Benedict is teaching us here that the transfigurative power of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is not limited those present for the Mass or the Church as a whole or even to all Christians or religious believers. The transfigurative power of the Eucharist extends out in fission—radiating, exuding, emanating from the center of the sacrifical offering on the altar out to the “heart of all being,” the cosmic altar of creation itself. God will be all in all.

In his second letter, Peter calls on his transfiguration revelation in support of the authority of his prophetic message: “We ourselves heard [God’s] voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” This then, this direct revelation, this face-to-face promise of passion, death, and resurrection is no story. He writes: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” They were eyewitnesses to the accomplishing revelation, the efficiaous sign of our Father’s re-creating love: Jesus glorified in brilliant light, raised up and dazzling white.

We do not live according to “cleverly devised myths,” but according to the witness of the apostles and the strength of our trust in the promises of a mighty God. Out there, there is no reason to be frightened or silent, instead be “a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts!” Tell everyone what you have seen.

*The figure in the pic above. . .I've been told that Jesus depicted with butterfly wings is a traditional representation of the Transfiguration. Anyone know anything more about this?

05 August 2007

An exit graceless and without mystery? [Revised]

18th Sunday OT: Eccl 1.2, 2.21-23; Col 3.1-5, 9-11; & Luke 12.31-21
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul
, Dallas, TX

Listen here!

All things are vanity! Futile, wasted, useless. All things. Everything. Everyone. Looking squint-eyed into an endless summer morning, ruled first thing by asphalt-thawing heat, concrete-sweating humidity, and the knowing-despair that tomorrow and tomorrow in some mildewed future are already hotter and wetter than today will ever be—yes, easily we believe, “all things are vanity,” futile and mean against our best dreams for big tubs of ice, great bursts of dry Yankee air, and the chilly settling mists of October. And the Preacher, Qoheleth, himself as welcomed as a warm, moist blanket of wool in our Texas days of August, asks the question we have asked ourselves many times: “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” I work. I worry. I tear my body down, pushing uphill against chance, accident; defending against thieves and swindlers; dodging disaster one day, one day, one day; grieving my losses, celebrating my small wins, hoping for the more and the better that comes to me and mine, shaking, hesitating; and then: I die, abandoning it all to storage, to shiny new barns; fresh, newly anxious faces and smooth, eager hands; supplying the future’s hearts and minds with the fodder for fret and worry. What is the point?

Paul writes to the Colossians: “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above…For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God…Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” Do you hear Paul telling you to despise your life now? To turn away from your daily living—sleeping, eating, being friendly, raising kids?—is the great Apostle telling you to hate the body and its dirty but necessary functions? There is no salvation from the vanities of living in the hatred of life, in the despising of nature—all the good nouns and verbs of our Father’s Very Good Creation! We do not win a single race, not one contest against futility when we surrender one of our best means of knowing and loving God: knowing and loving His creatures, His creation.

Living among all the true, good, and beautiful things of our world, Paul warns us against the pride of believing that we rule here; that we hold the earth in its orbit and polish the glitter of the stars; that we breathe out the atmosphere, feed the trees, stoke the heat of summer and spring and make the leaves brown in autumn and the mist white in winter. We are warned against the greed of self-importance, the avarice of carving idols of our needs and wants and then shaping ourselves in the images and likenesses of what we unwisely think we most desire: full bellies, stuffed pockets, muddled minds, tranquilized hearts. Idol worshipers become their idols. And suffer their fate: the fires of the trash heap. This is foolishness! This is vanity!

In fact, it is worse than folly and vanity; it is deceit, lying. Paul writes: “[…]since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed […] in the image of its creator […] Stop lying to one another […].” We say we are reborn in baptism. That we have died with Christ and risen again in new light and in his glory. Do we look reborn? Do we work and love and fight and have kids and battle disease and learn and grow and win and lose and eat and sleep—do you do all of your living and your dying…reborn in Christ? If not, then truly, for you, all things are vanity; all of your days are sorrow and grief. A great misfortune.

The German poet, Rainier Maria Rilke, writing in 1905 in his collection, The Book of Hours, his love-poems to God, talks to God about His people: “Lord, the great cities are lost and rotting./Their time is running out…./The people there live harsh and heavy,/crowded together, weary of their own routines. […] Their dying is long/and hard to finish: hard to surrender/what you never received./Their exit has no grace or mystery./It’s a little death, hanging dry and measly/like a fruit inside them that never ripened.” Lost. Rotting. Harsh. Heavy. Crowded. Long, hard death—a little death. Dry. Measly. Lives like fruit never ripened. Is this the limit of the bounty we are called to in Christ Jesus? Is this the scarce basket of harvest? Is this what we get for our faith in Him, our hope in His promises, our love for Him and one another? Won’t you be glad to die after this misadventure, this funny little tragedy you have lived? Stop lying to yourself! You have taken off your old self and put on Christ, so that “when Christ your life appears, then you will appear with him in glory. Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly”—your defiance of God’s will for you; your double-bound heart (whom do you serve?); your restless obsessions and compulsions; your need for vengeance, dominance, worldly success and admiration—any and every desire that is not a painful longing for God; take an axe to your idols—cultural celebrity, war at any cost, peace at any cost, your love of being owed something; burn the idols you have carved to your public image, to your duty and logic, to your safe loves and your tourist soul: “Jesus Christ” is the ONLY name given under God’s heaven for our salvation.

God said to the fool: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Who gets the house, the safety deposit box, the cars, the jewelry, the bonds and the stock; who gets the property, the art collection, the dogs; who gets the silver, the furs, the cash? Who gets the grain and those shiny new barns? Who gets the anxiety, the vanity, the worry and fret? Better yet: who wants to hope, to love, to trust? To live free in the spirit of re-creating life? Who wants the treasure of a perfect vision of God? Who wants to store up riches in Christ Jesus? To spend the merits of heaven on mercy for the world? Who wants to run after God while He chases after you?

“Christ is all and in all” and you must find your life in Christ. Otherwise, what is the point? Let me be more direct: otherwise, what is your point? What is the point of You? If you have been raised with Christ, then run after what true knowledge, true success, true treasure. You can stand in your yard and curse the heat, the humidity, the sweat and tears of dogging your days in vain labor. You can. Or, you can change that vanity into a Christ-purpose, a godly goal of making yourself into a preacher of the gospel right where God has put you. You can die and leave the world your heart—small and measly, an unripened fruit—and we can forget you in your stored-up miserliness—your name on all those barns becomes an address. Or, you can leave us your life, generously lived as Christ among us, an image of the Son worthy of his Father!

You and I, we are called to a glory greater than creation and it is unworthy of our baptismal vows, our love for God and one another, to carve idols, to wallow in despair, to shout vainly at vanity, and to store-up against God’s generosity. So, stop lying! You have put off the old self and put on the new. Therefore, tell the truth: show us Christ!