06 October 2007

Tentative Plans/Discernment Woes

This isn't me. . .but this is how I feel!

Asking for prayers. . .again!

The discernment process for my next assignment is slowly coming to a close.

I have been praying over and thinking about and discussing with my superiors two options:

1) a full-time affiliate teaching position at the University of Dallas in English and theology and

2) advanced studies in philosophical theology/philosophical hermeneutics, leading to some sort of license or doctorate.

It is almost certain that I will not be continuing at U.D. as a teacher or campus minister. This leaves the advanced studies option. Now, the discernment begins again in earnest about where to study and at what level. Advanced studies requires that I gather a great deal of info about costs and financial aid, proper location for studies (a university at or near an OP priory), availability of room/board at the priory, the degree program and availability of faculty in the area I am to study, and on and on and on. I have to do this research for each university to which I will be applying.

So, where am I thinking about going? In order of preference:

1. Oxford University (M.Phil. in phil theo/hermeneutics & D.Phil. in same) 4 yrs

2. Gregorian Pontifical University (license and doctorate in phil theo/hermeneutics) 4 yrs

3. Catholic University of America (Ph.L. in phil , no Ph.D.--US doctorates take too long)* 3 yrs

4. John Lateran Pontifical University (lic./doc. in phil theo/hermeneutics) 4 yrs

The difficulty is that with the exception of CUA, only Roman Pontifical universities offer philosophy at the license level. And CUA's license is really a three-year M.A. The other two pontifical grad faculties in the US (Weston Jesuit & Berkeley Jesuit) only offer canonical degrees in theology. Two other European pontifical universities are Fribourg and Salamanca. My French and German is nonexistent and my Spanish is no where near good enough for grad work. Plus I am not at all thrilled by the idea of having to learn a foreign language in order to study philosophy so that I can return to the US to teach that philosophy in English. Learning a research language is one thing, but the time and effort to learn a language just to attend lectures. . .that strikes me as excessive.

The website for the Greg is extremely poorly designed and has almost no information. If anyone out there can answer a few basic questions about language requirements, I would most grateful.

Please pray for me and visit the Philosophy & Theology Wish List on the sidebar.

God bless, Fr. Philip, OP

*I mean here that I would not want to study for another American Ph.D. b/c they usually take btw 6-8 yrs. Also, the language requirements are unreasonable. CUA offers an excellent doctoral program in philosophy. I'm just too old and tired to spend the time and energy again on American-style doctoral hoop-jumping.

05 October 2007

Wicked Hearts and Enemies of God

26th Week OT: Baruch 1.15-22 and Luke 10.13-16
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass & Church of the Incarnation

Cell phones. PDA’s. Laptops. iPods. Cameras. All devices. And though sometimes wickedly used, they are not wicked in themselves. So, what are the Babylonian captives confessing when they confess that “each one of us went off after the devices of his own wicked heart…”?

When asked how to explain the consequences of mortal sin, Fr. Dominic Holtz, OP, will answer: “You are wicked and become an enemy of God.” Never one to mince words, Fr. Dominic is expressing succinctly what the Babylonian captives are lamenting lavishly. In their stubborn disobedience, they became enemies of God—the God who led them out of slavery in Egypt; the God Who gave them Moses and the promise of a land flowing in milk and honey; the God of their ancestors, He Who made them and fathers them still. They confess: “From the time the Lord led our ancestors out the land of Egypt until the present day, we have been disobedient to the Lord, our God, and only too ready to disregard his voice.” They would not listen…and so they suffer the consequences, becoming enemies of God, each running after “the devices of his own wicked heart.”

Where do our disobedient devices take us? These devices of the wicked heart, where do they leave us? The Babylonian captives confess to serving other gods and doing evil in the sight of the Lord. Am I left serving alien gods and doing evil when I run after the plans, the schemes of my wicked heart? A heart turned from the Lord will not be fed by the Lord. And a heart not fed by the Lord starts to quickly die of starvation and thirst, it will grasp at any spiritual morsel offered by any passing spirit. Having feasted on the Lamb of Heaven, a heart turned from the Lord will be satisified with the cotton candies of New Age “spirituality,” or the junk snacks of secular philosophies, or the Happy Meals the little gods of ego and vice feed it.

We are made for heaven and called to a wonderous life!

Jesus curses Chorazin, Bathsaida, and Capernaum b/c these villages hear his Word but do not listen. Witness his mighty deeds but do not believe. They cannot see His justice, hear His mercy. Therefore, Jesus says, “[They] will go down to the netherworld.” They will live forever as they have chosen to live now: outside the love of God. And so, Psalm 95 warns us, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

You know as well as I do what plugs our ears and covers our eyes. A need for self-sufficiency. A desire for independence from others. The temptations of hatred, venegance, violence, despair. The seductive call of alien gods—those deities who live and thrive in the love of money, power, prestige, and celebrity. But do we see and hear all of the dangers of this postmodern age? The sinkhole of boredom. The erotic pull of extreme experience. The numbing mantras of moral indifference. All those puny gods that whisper to us: You can be gods w/o God. You have no end, no purpose but the ones you yourself invent, the ones you yourself set up on the altars of ambition and pride. You can be whatever you long to be; do whatever you long to do. Nothing is given, nothing is taken away. You are random bits of genetic material, sequenced for survival and development. Purpose is power and power is wielded by those who will seize the moment and declare themselves gods. Who rules your heart then? Who sits at the center of your being then? Unruly imagination? Destructive passion? Weak compromise? Death?

This disobedience shames those who have eaten the Lamb of Heaven and sends them chasing after the devices of their wicked hearts. Therefore, whoever listens to the witness of the apostles, listens to Christ. Whoever listens to Christ, listens to his Father. Whoever rejects the apostolic witness, rejects Christ. Whoever rejects Christ, rejects His Father. You are hearing His Word today, harden not your hearts.

03 October 2007

Zombie Christianity?

The Dead on their way to bury the dead

26th Week OT: Neh 2.1-8 and Luke 9.57-62
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

[Click on the Pod-O-Matic Podcast Player to listen!]

A body in the street, two in the fields, a couple on the front porch; bodies floating in the pond, another tipped over a well, and one over there near the temple gates: “Let the dead bury their dead.” Leaving dead bodies where they fall is not what Jesus had in mind when he tells his recently invited but hesitant-to-follow disciple to forego burying his father in favor of preaching the gospel. We have to admit though that images of zombies digging graves for soon-to-be zombies do come to mind. Or maybe that’s just me! Regardless, Jesus here is talking about those who are still in the life of sin, the spiritually dead; they are responsible for burying the dead, the actually dead. Those who are alive with the invitation from Christ to follow him have no time to bury the dead. They must “go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Going and proclaiming are what we do when we hear Christ say, “Follow me.” Given the invitation from Christ himself and the promise he made to send us his Spirit to open our mouths in praise of his Father’s name, our excuses, our hesitations and dodges, our vanity in attempting to skirt around the task of preaching, all are just weak.

So, what does it take to say to Christ, “I will follow you wherever you go”?

First, it takes supernatural courage. Courage is the good habit of doing what is right even when we fear for our lives. The amount of courage varies from place to place, from time to time, but the postmodern preacher must have a truly muscular heart! We need courage b/c we must preach a gospel message that runs directly counter to the way we are tempted—by the world—to live our lives. Holiness, not the fake pietistic play-acting junk that’s so popular nowadays but True Holiness, threatens all of our loves, our friendships, our most comforting securities. As holiness matures for us, it invades and defines how we perceive the world, how we take it all in, and ultimately, how we come to serve that world. Jesus says, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Second, following Christ wherever he goes requires a bit of healthy ignorance, a mindset ready to be formed by the darkness of Good Friday and the Cross. How prepared are we to walk behind our Lord on the via dolorosa, enduring the anger and venom of the vengeful crowds, walking through the harassment and harangues of those who would rather see us crucified than victorious? Not knowing the end, being ignorant of what our final witness will be, is the blessing of letting the dead bury the dead. Again, like courage, the degree of ignorance will vary from time to time, place to place. Right here, right now our ignorance is safely tucked away in Christian Texas. But remember: every time you say “amen,” you agree to follow Christ wherever he goes and whenever he chooses to leave!

Third, following Christ wherever he goes requires a large dose of foolish faith. For exactly all of the reasons that such a commitment requires courage and ignorance, it requires that we fall in behind Christ, trusting fully in the Father’s promises of final victory in His glory. But why does the commitment require a “foolish faith”? Like the Fool we cannot worry about what our faith looks like out there. We cannot fret about what the world sees as our dumb trust in magic and ancient myth. These are our feet and our steps, our breath and our YES! If the Son of Man himself has nowhere to rest his head, then why would those who follow him wherever his goes get wound up about what the world calls “foolishness”? Call it wisdom instead and become wise.

When the invitation comes—and it has—giggle hysterically, jump up, embarrass yourself with effusive gratitude, and wave hello and goodbye to the dead who are busy burying the dead. And judge all things as so much rubbish that you may gain Christ and be found in him. Even (and especially) if you will be found nailed to a cross.

02 October 2007

Saying the Unsayable, teaching the unteachable

I received word recently that the senior/grad student seminar I had proposed to my department chair has been approved and scheduled for spring semester 2008!

The seminar will be: THEO 5317 Recent and Contemporary Theology: Post/metaphysical theologies.

Basically, we will read, discuss, and critique texts from some of the major movements in theology influenced by the "post/metaphysical" challenge to onto-theology first articulated in the modern period by Nietzsche and Heidegger. I say "first articulated in the modern period" because I think a good argument can be made that this critique has traveled with the "onto" of "theology" since Pseudo-Dionysus & Gregory of Nyssa (i.e., the apophatic theologians of the Patristic period). We will be reading Kant, Nietzsche, Derrida, Lyotard, Tracy, Lindbeck, Milbank, Levinas, Marion, Vattimo, and several others. I promise to post a bibliography when I have it ready.

As you might imagine, this seminar will require some strenuous prep for the Ole' Prof here, so please feel free to browse the Buy Philosophy & Theology for Fr. Philip Wish List and see if the Spirit moves you to purchase a text that will help me help my students understand and undermine the destructive elements of post/metaphysical theology.

I've said before that teaching this stuff is like being the Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts! So, pray for me as well...

Catholic Truth Society and Two OP books

The Catholic Truth Society runs one of the best Catholic bookshops in London. The store is situated right off the plaza in front of Westminster Cathedral. The Cathedral Bookstore is impressive as well.

Be sure to check out, 8 Deadly Sins, a book by the current student master of the English Province, Fr. Vivian Boland, OP.

Fr. Boland is also the author of Spiritual Warfare.

01 October 2007

Turn, go to the playground

Little Flower: Isa 66.10-14 and Matthew 18.1-4
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

First, we have the Kroger Child who starts screaming at the door, screams from the mangos and hot dog buns all the way through picnic supplies and dried pastas and on to organic juices, candy bars, and trashy gossip magazines at the register. Then we have the two little girls, five and seven, who sit quietly through the 7.30 Sunday Mass, run up to me immediately after, hug my legs, and thank me for being a priest. And then you have the hundreds of neo-natals in ICU’s across the country; the kids at Family Gateway and the Merilac Center w/o parents or homes; the fifty children on CBS’ latest “reality show,” living w/o adults in a “Lord of the Flies” scenario, complete with readily available tribal make-up and hundreds of cameras; we have the children in our lives, these here, those at home, in school, the ones we see only in pictures from our own kids. . .and then we have those who show us how to get into heaven. Jesus says to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Perhaps it is time we turned to the playground again.

You have to imagine the scene clearly. Jesus is praying quietly by himself. His disciples, the twelve and probably a few others, all grown men in their thirties and forties, approach Jesus expectantly. He opens his eyes, takes a deep breath, and waits for the question. And what cosmos-quaking question do these students of the Anointed Messiah ask their master? What is the nature of peace? Of mercy? How do we live abundantly in poverty? Hunger? No. They want to know who among them will be the greatest in heaven. Ah, it’s about ambition, about being the alpha-dog. You can almost feel the heat from Jesus’ embarrassment and perhaps just a degree or two of his anger. Jesus—no doubt thinking: how do I get through to these thick skulls I’ve chosen to be my apostles?—calls over a child and stands the child in the middle of the group. There’s a tense silence among the nipping canine-disciples, an expectant hush as they wait to hear what incredible nonsense Jesus will try to teach them this time; and Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” I see dumbfounded stares, dropped jaws, disappointment, confusion, all flavored with a bit of frustration and anger. Children!?

Yes, children. Jesus sets a child among them and anoints the child as their exemplar. He puts two conditions on entering heaven in this passage: 1) we must turn and 2) we must become like children. Turning makes perfect sense b/c as adults we would have to make radical changes, turn-a-bouts, in order to arrive back at where we started—innocence, humility, a sense of wonder. Turning is conversion, flipping over, stopping and going in reverse, facing the other direction. What does it mean for us to become like children? No doubt Jesus is pointing out the desirable qualities of a first-century Jewish child. Respect, humility, willingness to serve, eagerness to learn, docility in obedience—all of the qualities we would associate with “good kids.” He is also lifting up in this child those qualities that we sometime leave behind as adults: imagination, wonder, a perfect sense of awe, that ability and willingness to look at the world and live wholeheartedly in joy, overflowing gladness and a complete lack of pretension.

Jesus is telling us that we must become a particular kind of child. We must become small, little; without worldly ambitions, without aggressive pretense or a need for secular approval. He is telling us that we must become who we truly are already: creatures of a Creator, children of the Father. We are to be students, apprentices of charity and grace, interns of eternity. As adults of the twenty-first century, we must become the children of the first. If we would be the greatest, we must be who we truly are: the least. To do this we must turn and turn and turn. Always turning back to our heavenly Father. What else can His favorites do?

30 September 2007

Hey! Where are we going and why am I in this handbasket?!

26th Sunday OT: Amos 6.1-7; 1 Tim 6.11-16; Luke 16.19-31
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul
& Church of the Incarnation

[NB. Click on the Pod-o-Matic Podcast Player to listen. The power was out on campus tonight. So, we started Mass with candlelight. I read the Gospel and as soon as the congregation said, "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ" the lights snapped on! I misquoted a line from scripture in the homily. And as I am correcting myself, my lovely and amazing sacristan, Joycelene brings my #1 Liturgical Fan to provide me with a Holy Wind...strange night in Irving, TX.]

Let’s talk about Hell. We can’t read this gospel out loud this morning/evening without saying something about what Hell is. To skip around the subject after reading what is probably the most explicit description of Hell we have in the N.T. would be dodgy at best, irresponsible at the worst. So here goes. . .

Let’s get a definition first. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1033), we read: “We cannot unite with God unless we freely choose to love him.” So far, so good. We must choose to love God in order to live with Him forever. Continuing, “But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves.” How do we fail to love God? How do we reject His invitation to live with Him forever? We sin against Him, our neighbors (meaning any other human being), and ourselves.

Alright, how do we sin? Let’s read a definition of sin and then return to Hell (no pun!): “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience…” When we act against, speak against, desire against reason, truth, and our properly form conscience, we sin. Continuing on: “…[sin is a] failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods.” OK. When you are attached viciously (in a manner of a vice, a bad habit) to goods that are not The Good (God), then you fail to give your love to God and to your neighbors. So, loving things or ideas or desires in a way that fundamentally excludes God is a failure in genuine love. And more: “[Sin] wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity.” When you act against, speak against, and desire against reason, truth, and your rightly formed conscience, you wound or injure your very nature; in other words, you damage that which makes you loveable to God and the rest of us—your creaturliness, your nature as a redeemed child of the Father. One more: “[Sin] sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from [God’s love]…Sin is thus (according to St Augustine) ‘love of oneself even to the contempt of God.’”

Now, back to Hell. Remember: we cannot be united with God if we sin against Him, neighbor, or self. The CCC continues: “Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.” This is straight from Matthew’s gospel: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned. (Matt 25.31-46). More: “[To die in sin] without repenting or accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by [your] own free choice.” That is, if you leave this life having lived apart from God—His love, His mercy—and you leave this life having failed to help those in need, you will live in eternity in exactly the same way you lived this life: separated from God. Hell, therefore, “[is the state] of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed…” Did you hear that? Hell is the definitive self-exclusion from an eternal life with God and His saints. SELF-exclusion. You put yourself in Hell. God wants you in heaven with Him. Why would He put you Hell? Answer: He wouldn’t. Or rather: He won’t!

Paul tells Timothy: “Lay hold of eternal life, to which you are called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.” You do this by pursuing “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” Paul urges Timothy: “Compete well for the faith.” The better translation reads: “Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you were made.” Did you hear that? You are made to live with God forever! God created you, created all of us in such a way that we can live beyond this life of flesh and blood, beyond our sin, beyond death itself—we can live with Him in “unapproachable light.”* But we cannot live with Him if we sin. Not now and not forever.

The Rich man in Luke’s gospel finds himself suffering torment in the flames of Hell. Why? Because he was rich? No. Because he wore purple garments and ate sumptuously on fine linen? No and no. Because he drove a Land Rover? Wore Gucci and Donna Karan? Vacationed in France? No, no, and no. The Rich Man is burning in Hell b/c “he received what was good in [his] lifetime” and left his neighbor, Lazarus, hungry and dying at his door. For the Rich Man, Lazarus was his way into eternal life and he, the Rich Man, stepped over Lazarus, letting him suffer the agony of his sores and watching him, day-by-day, die of starvation. How ironic then that the Rich Man, once he is in Hell, asks Abraham to send Lazarus to him with just a drop of cool water on his finger! Unfortunately, for the Rich Man, such a thing is impossible. Once you have chosen how you will live your eternity, you have chosen. Choose wisely.

Now this is the point in the homily where I am supposed to guilt you into giving money to charity or volunteering at the homeless shelter. Do I need to do that? No. We Catholics are famous for our works of mercy. If you aren’t giving money to charity or volunteering to help the poor, start now. No, I don’t want to guilt you into service. Rather I want to make sure you have heard the subtext of this homily—and for that matter, the plain text of our Mass readings. I’ll say it clearly so there is no confusion: God does not want you in Hell. God made you and me to live with Him. He called us to lives of righteousness. He sent His only Son to die for us so that we can live with Him forever. He does everything in His power to seduce us into a life of Love with Him…everything, that is, except take away our free choice and turn us into programmed androids. He loves us so much that He will respect our freedom to reject Him and honor our decision to live without Him. In other words, God will love us straight into Hell. But please, please hear this: He does not want us in Hell nor will He just randomly toss us into Hell. That’s our choice. Not His. A mature relationship with the Father is rooted in His love for us—He loved us first and loves us last—and we come to the fullness of our humanity when we take His love for us and spread it around.

Finally, God is not hiding behind your bathroom door just waiting for you to sin. He is not under your bed taking notes and hoping you “go too far.” He is not floating above your car praying that you will slip up and cuss someone in traffic so He can crash your car in punishment. Ours is not a GOTCHA God who lurks in dark places just hoping we will mess up so He can get us. Nor is he a petty little god of tiny faults and minute flaws, hungry for theological error and spiritual laziness. This kind of god does not provide a way out nor does he/she open avenues of forgiveness and blessing. This kind of god does not bother to care for his/her wicked creatures, but focuses his/her energy on the Bright and Chosen. In this god’s world, the poor are an embarrassment, a trial, and an offense. The wicked are simply disobedient and subject to arbitrary punishment. Fortunately, we do not worship Zeus and Hera, but Christ Jesus who is our forgiveness and our salvation.

For the sake of your spiritual maturity, please move beyond the god of constant surveillance, beyond the god of terrible Gotcha’s, beyond the god of retribution and blood. Move toward the God of Christ, the God who sent His only child, His son, to die for us once on the cross. We are free from sin in his death and resurrection. We are freed, we are free in his one sacrifice for us. Fight the good fight of the faith not the already, always lost battle of “do-it-yourself” salvation. You didn’t create yourself, so you can’t re-recreate yourself. Choose now to love as you are loved and choose against Hell itself.

*For reasons known only to God and my misfiring synapses, I pronounced this as "irreproachable." There is no such word. Duh.

Oh, the possibilities!

Please continue to pray for my discernment!

As some of you here in Irving know, I have been in conversation with several different people about the possibilities for my ministry in the next few years. Some of these possibilities include teaching at U.D. full-time, advanced studies in philosophical theology in Europe, and a few others that remain sub stola.

As of yesterday morning, the list of possibilities has been narrowed considerably. Though I've received no final word, it is almost certain that my first choice for ministry has been eliminated.

My second choice is going to be a HUGE challenge. . .. . .

And my third choice (sssshhhhhhh. . .) is still brewing in prayer. . .

I will flesh these out for you more later--when I know for certain that this or that possibility has been eliminated.

In other news: any bishops out there looking for an orthodox Dominican friar to run your diocesan religious ed program, or any university/college department chairs who might need an experienced classroom teacher. . .I know a guy who knows a guy who can hook you up with a well-educated O.P. who would run a tight yet creative ship for you! Drop me a combox note and I'll pass it along to this friar's superiors.

Pray hard, Fr. Philip, OP