19 October 2007

Not Homilies (not exactly)

Postmodern Catholic preaching! Jesus, Mary, Joseph. . .help us!

My new project: kNOt + homi(lies) : ad experimentum. . .an experiment in postmodern Catholic preaching. . .

This is a project that I've wanted to take on for some time, but I was forever letting This or That get in the way.

My intention here is to write and publish experimental homilies using the daily Mass readings. These homily-texts will be very tentative in nature, very much examples of "writing after the death of modernism."

To say the least: these will not be to everyone taste.

Just remember that we're in the kitchen now with our Homiletic Cuisinart and an exotic array of completely foreign ingredients. Will our dishes be tasty? Who knows! BUT. . .we gotta try.

Fr. Philip, OP

I AM with you always

Fractal Flesh

Ss. John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues: 2 Cor 4.7-15 and Matthew 28.16-20
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass and Church of the Incarnation

Jesus says to his eleven friends on the mountain near Galilee, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” Sending them out into the world, he vows: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Surely his students wondered how much a thing was possible. With us how? In memory, of course. Who could forget Jesus!? With us in spirit? Yes. He had made that promise too, but what does it mean for him “to be with us in spirit”? Will he haunt us? Surely not. He can’t mean that he will “be with us physically” b/c he has told us his end. Will he abide with us as a form of Law or in prayer as his body or perhaps in our doubts. Pay attention: I AM with you always.” Not: I WILL BE with you always. Jesus is not promising that at some future point he will be with his friends. He is telling them that right now and always he IS with them. As he is with us right now.

Paul clarifies: “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;…persecuted but not abandoned;…always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” Jesus is with us always. His body, the Church—because of the surpassing power of God—is becoming Christ; in his dying and in his living, Jesus is being manifested in our mortal flesh; and we, you and I, though often perplexed by the mysteries of our rescue from sin and death, we are never driven to despair; though we are sometimes struck down, we are never destroyed. The victory of the Church of over sin and death is accomplished in the “defeat” of Christ on the Cross—the scandal that ignites our transformation into those who follow Christ to his cross. We follow him to his cross, into his death, and down under his tombstone, therefore “the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus,” placing us in His presence.

If we follow Christ now, die with him now, and live always in the hope of rising with him, then we must do what he did and teach what he taught. To do or teach anything less or other-than is a betrayal of, treason against the manifestation of his living and dying in our mortal flesh. And so, to all the nations we go out “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [he] has commanded [us].” Our success in this commission is more than a force of history, more than the accuracy of our story told over and again; our success in this assignment as mortal-flesh-transformed is guaranteed by the living presence of the one who is himself the Word Made Flesh. Though afflicted, persecuted, and struck down, we cannot fail because what we do in our mortal flesh as his Body is “not from us” but is the fruit of our God’s surpassing power, the power of “I AM with you always.”

I believe, therefore I speak: Live as Christ. Die as Christ. Rise with Christ to the Father “so that the grace bestowed in abundance” may be given again and again to more and more and more and the harvest of thanksgiving for our Lord’s life and death will “overflow for the glory of God.” Go, therefore, be fruitful and multiply! Christ is with us always!

18 October 2007

Postmetaphysical theologies

Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Derrida and their band, The Categorical Imperatives

Here's a partial reading list for my spring seminar: THEO5317: Postmetaphysical theologies

J.L. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition

G. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine

J.-L. Marion, God Without Being

J. Milbank, Radical Orthodoxy

M. Wrathall, Religion After Metaphysics

There will be many other articles and book chapters assigned, including work from Caputo, Vattimo, Derrida, Heidegger, and many others. There will also be a few on-line articles to read such as this one.

17 October 2007

A stillborn life of fear

St Ignatius of Antioch: Philippians 3.17-4.1 and John 12.24-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

[Click on Podcast Player to listen]

Maybe it isn’t death that you fear most. Maybe there is something or someone, the thought of which or whom, clutches your gut in a vise-grip and wrings your adrenal glands dry, sending you into a hard-breathing panic—run or fight, flee or do battle! Or maybe your fear is more subtle. Not the sort of spiked shock that jolts us when a door slams in the night or when we round a street corner and there, only inches away, stands a stranger. Perhaps your fear is more intricate, more complex; a fear with some finesse—a long fear, anxious, spiced with apprehension and that not-knowing sense of a soon-to-arrive surprise, grim and dark with vicious possibilities. Imagine the terror of slowly losing control of your mind. Or the darkness of addiction. Or the daily dread that rises from a failed marriage, or an unsuccessful career, or an arid spiritual life. Imagine believing that God is abandoning you, pulling away, becoming distant and angry. Imagine hating your life. Then the fear of death seems like a welcomed wind.

Jesus teaches his disciples that they must die like a grain of wheat before they are can produce much fruit. How are they to die? Except for John, all of them are martyred—the seeds of their blood sown for the Church. Jesus means literal death, literally one must die to bear the best fruit. Our martyrs, our witnesses in death, bear this out. He also means that before death you must die to self so that what gifts you have may be used for others: “Whoever loves his life loses it…whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Is there any sign for us here and now that we have lost of our life for Christ and stand ready to follow him? How do we know that we have fallen to the ground like that grain of wheat and are now ready to produce much fruit?

Are you afraid? What do fear? Whom do you fear? Is there a fiber of dread in you? Even a sliver of apprehension about who you are or what you will do or who it is you need to serve? I ask b/c fear is the soul’s signal to us that we love our lives too much. Anxiety is our defense against surrender. To be afraid is a sign that we still need control, still hope to be in charge, still want to own our future—a future, by the way, that in virtue of your baptism properly belongs to Christ alone. Jesus says, “Whoever loves his life loses it…” We have lost our lives to him. That worrying disquiet, that nervous vigilance against submitting fully to grace, the fear you feel welling up when your plans go awry, when your strategy for your soul’s progress is thwarted, that fear is your billboard announcement that you are not willing yet to be a servant. The thick hull of your seed is not yet willing to crack, to germinate, to produce much fruit.

Listen to Ignatius of Antioch, writing to the first century church in Rome, asking his brothers and sisters in Christ not to rescue him from martyrdom: “I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread…Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn…Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being.”

We are citizens of heaven, so our minds must not be occupied with earthly things. Does this mean that you are to wall yourself up in a cave? No. It means that the country of your soul, the territory of your Spirit is ruled by the sacrificial love of God Himself, and no other spirit—not anxiety, not hatred, not envy or pride, no other vicious spirit—must be allowed to occupy the land of your love for Christ and his Church. Desire only to die in Christ for Christ and pray with the martyr Ignatius that you may obtain your desire.

Texas' First Red Hat?

Texas' First Cardinal?

Rocco over at Whispers in the Loggia is reporting that Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston will be wearing a spiffy red hat very, very soon. The Archbishop's elevation to the College of Cardinals will be a first for the Church in the great state of Texas.

Congrats Archbishop DiNardo and to the Church of Galveston-Houston!

Psssssssssttt, Archbishop, if you need a good personal theologian, you know, like the Pope has one, just give me a ring, I know a jolly Dominican friar who'd make a great one. . .I'm a mean cook too!

Fr. Philip, OP

15 October 2007

Sighing, fidgeting, groaning

Teresa of Jesus: Romans 8.22-27 and John 15.1-8
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

[Click on the Podcast Player to listen!]

Perhaps all this groaning in Romans this morning is a near eastern tradition, a traditional way of expressing a kind of frustrated anticipation. Nowadays, we fidget. Bounce our legs, tap our fingers, or grind our teeth. Or, my personal favorite, the exasperated sigh. Whatever artful way our impatience blows out of us, we can be sure that being impatient about the perfection of our bodies and souls in Christ will do nothing to move things along. Groan, sigh, tap, bounce, fidget and end up not one iota closer to being perfected in Christ. Paul says in Romans that all this groaning in expectation is just fine, “For in hope we were saved…if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” So, when we hope over and against impatience and we do so with endurance, the Spirit comes to our aid in our weakness and gives us a mouth and tongue for prayer. In fact, we aren’t the only ones groaning. Since we do not how to pray as we ought, “…the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” Ooohhh, now I get it: groaning in anticipation of being perfected in Christ through the Spirit is not just noisy, windy impatience at all but an expression of our own labor pains as each one of us struggles—along with all of creation—to give birth to the Word for the world!

This image of “giving birth to the word” connects with our sisters in Christ better, I think, than it does with our brothers. Though some of us may look as though we are about to give birth, images of motherhood require some intimacy with the biological processes involved to be effective as a teaching method. John gives us another image of our familial connection to Christ that is a bit more universal in its appeal—the analogy of the God the vine grower, Christ the vine, and the we the branches. First, Jesus tells the disciples, “You are already pruned because of the word I spoke to you.” Jesus has cut away the obstacles of sin, the ties that bind, the relationships that impede growth in holiness with him. We are branches prepared to be grafted onto the vine. Next, Jesus admonishes them, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” As a pruned branch, a cut limb, we cannot live apart from the vine. We wither and die without the nourishment of Christ the Branch. We need that organic feed, that biological bond not just to survive but to prosper, to bloom and bear fruit. And if we fail to grow that organic bond—to bloom, to bear good fruit—we die on the branch. And we are pruned away, gathered up, and thrown into the fire. Then the real groaning begins!

Jesus says to his disciples: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” Now, we can go back to fidgeting and tapping and loudly sighing; waiting as our bounce our knees, groaning for our redemption. And while we wait—happily impatient, hopefully annoyed for having to linger here—we remain in Christ and he remains in us, and the Spirit, himself a groaner of the inexpressible, intercedes for us before the throne, insuring that when our impatient hearts are searched, our Father finds a field of good fruit, acres of fresh produce. Remember Christ’s promise: “Remain in my love; whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”

14 October 2007

Hermeneutics of Books

The more I read the more I need to read. . .

The cycle is neverending!

I've updated the Buy Fr. Philip PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Wish List. It now includes more texts on philosophical hermeneutics, i.e. the uses of philosophy in interpreting texts, or the philosophical issues involved in reading texts and interpreting them. You would be surprised to know just how many problems there are in the interpretations of various kinds of texts.

I'm going to need more boxes before I move. Sigh.

How to Ruin Your Life

Your life can be a car wreck too! Keep reading to find out how!

28th Sunday OT: 2 Kings 5.14-17; 2 Tim 2.8-13; Luke 17.11-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

[Click the Podcast Player to listen!]

Here’s the surest way to ruin your life: never say “thank you.” Live as if you are entitled to everything you have, everything you receive. Live as if you are responsible for your successes, your moments of greatness (large or small). Live as if you are self-sufficient, independent, in need of no help, in need of no one else. Clench you fist when a hand is offered. Close your heart when a hand reaches out. Recoil in horror when someone suggests that you could use assistance. Believe that you can do it all by yourself. When you fail there is no one else to blame. When you succeed there is no one else to credit. And when you die, you die alone. Never say “thank you” and watch your days unravel behind you like an ugly scarf snagged on a barbed-wire fence. A life of ingratitude is a life without grace, without gifts and it is a life unworthy of life. It is better to be a healed leper who returns to God with thanks than a well man who will not come to God with thanksgiving. Therefore, “in all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul writes to Timothy that he, Paul, is a criminal for the gospel, a man put in chains for preaching the Good News to Jews and Gentiles alike. And though he is suffering in chains for the sake of Christ and Christ’s body, “the word of God is not chained.” We can add here: “…and the word of God will never be chained.” Though courts, kings, governors, and states may strive to whip the Word with judicial rulings or bury it in paper prisons or poison it with the deadliest medicines, the Word will not be whipped, buried, or poisoned. In fact, Paul, noting the persistence of the Word for him, says, that because the word is not chained, “[he] bear[s] with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus…” The Word endure, carries on, lives always. And for this, we must give thanks. You must be the one healed leper in ten who returns to give God thanks, or Christ will wonder about you, “Where are the other nine?”

Before asking how gratitude works for us spiritually, let’s take a moment to explore the possible reasons for being ungrateful. Why do we sometimes fail to give God thanks? First, we may not understand the “giftedness” or “givenness” of our lives, that is, we may not understand the fundamental animating principle of human life. My life, your life is a gift, meaning that that we exist at all is a present from God. God did not need us then. Does not need us now. And will never need us. Reality’s creation from nothing was a gratuitous, singular event, a wholly unnecessary one-time occurrence. The on-going presence of Something rather than Nothing is gratuitous as well. That we are still here is a gift. Second, the psychological motivations we need to accomplish anything often rely on the notion that we achieve our successes and that we fail in our failures. In other words, it seems that in order for us to do anything good at all we must believe that anything we do well results from personal talent and hard work. Why give thanks to someone not directly involved in the work of my success? Of course, this denies the first principle of creation: eveything I am and everything I have is a gift from God. My talent, my drive to work hard, my need to succeed—all are gifts. Third, so delighted are we in our successes we often need to claim total credit in order to feel worthy of the success. If I am to succeed again, I have to come to the conclusion that I am solely responsible for that success. To do anything less is to risk a future failure. Finally, since the first bite of the apple in the garden we have been tempted to believe that we can become god w/o God. One god has no need to thank another god for anything. Our declaration of independence from the engines of divine perfection means that we think we are capable of saving ourselves. All we need for salvation is determination, the right doctrines, sufficient work, and a heart cold enough to reject any outside help offered—human or divine. We fail to give God thanks out of ignorance, pride, a cold heart, and vanity.

Why should we give God thanks? Given what we already know about our creation—that we were created gratuitously—we can see that acknowledging our existence is first and foremost a matter of justice: we owe God our gratitude. Our thanks is due. Our thanks to God is also a matter of acknowledging the most basic truth of our lives: we are creatures created by a Creator. We are not random collections of chemical and electrical processes. We are not genetic productions accidentally generated by ideal climatic conditions. We are beloved creatures, loved by our Creator. And as creatures first loved by God, we love back and give thanks for that love. The spiritual benefit, that is, the advantage that accrues to us when we are grateful to God is an increase in humility, an increase in our appreciation of our givenness, our total dependence on God as our Creator and Sustainer-in-being. Humility is the measure we use to determine the degree to which we are radically aware of our dependence on God. Your humility means that you know you are a gift given for no other reason than to love and be loved.

Here then is the surest way to ruin your life: fail daily to give thanks to God. Get up in the morning and go to bed at night as if you are entitled to everything you have, as if you were owed everything you have received. Get up in the morning and go to bed at night as if you alone achieved all of your successes, as if you orchestrated all your moments of greatness. Go day to day through your life utterly alone, in need of no one, in need of nothing but your own ingenuity and hard work. Grit your teeth when help is offered and say, “No, thank you.” Lock up your heart when a hand reaches out and say, “No thanks.” Shrink back in disgust at yourself and everyone around you when you fall and refuse help. Know in your ungrateful heart that you can do it all by yourself.

Or, you can be trustworthy. You can be grateful and flourish in blessing. You can be the one healed leper who returns to thanks to God. You can be Naaman, who is healed in the Jordan, his flesh like the flesh of a little child. And you will be the one to hear Christ say, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Our Lord has revealed his saving power to the nations. Whatever you do, do not be among the nine ungrateful hearts who think that their healing is an accident. There is nothing accidental about the Cross, or Christ’s death on it. He died with intent. For us, he died knowingly, freely. And because of his love for us, we are free. Give thanks to God and make your life, this life right now, a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving!