10 November 2007


The Angelicum


I heard from my provincial tonight about my assignment for next year. . .

I will be moving to Rome to study philosophy at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum). Upon completion of the required degrees, I will join the faculty and teach philosophy until assigned otherwise.

My thanks for all the prayers and please continue to pray for me and the Order as we preach the Good News!

Help me celebrate this good news by adding to my philosophy library! Click over to the PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Wish List and send me a book to take to Rome! (cheesy grin) Trust me: these books will get a tremendous workout in Rome. . .

Fr. Philip, OP

Catholic Dollars for Anti-Catholic Activities???

My education about the involvement of the Church in various nefarious "social justice" activities continues on unabated! Recently, I ran across several articles on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). These articles noted that several agencies that receive the hard-earned dollars of believing Catholics are in fact often not only anti-Catholic but anti-Christian!

This weekend Catholics all over the country will be asked to contribute to the CCHD. Do your homework first!

You don't have to believe me or anyone else. . .just do a google.com search and you will find more than enough evidence to withhold your dimes and quarters. . .here's a short piece from my fav Catholic magazine, First Things:

Time for a Step Further

The criticism of CCHD is fine so far as it goes, says an old hand at inner-city community organizing here in New York, but it doesn’t go far enough. CCHD is, of course, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. In response to critics, the word Catholic was recently added to the name in order to indicate that it is, well, Catholic. The aforementioned old hand doesn’t think it means very much. He criticizes the critics of CCHD for concentrating on those cases where funding is given to organizations that directly violate the Church’s teaching, notably on abortion. The problem with that, says our old hand, is that it segregates the "life questions" from the fullness of the Church’s social teaching, giving the impression that abortion and a few other things are no more than Catholic "hang-ups" to which those receiving Catholic money need to be sensitive.

In an earlier life long ago, before he was converted to the gospel of life, our old hand was an executive with Planned Parenthood. That organization, he notes, would never dream of giving support to a group that did not back its entire agenda, and it is assumed that when a major lobbying effort is needed PP will call in its chits. Not so with Catholics. Through CCHD many millions of dollars are given each year to organizations that, while avoiding the hang-up questions, are indifferent and frequently hostile to the Church’s mission. In inner-city community organizing, Catholics provide, in addition to the funding, the great majority of the people and the bulk of parish-based institutional support.

Our old hand thinks part of the problem is with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), an effort launched more than thirty years ago by the late Saul Alinsky of Chicago, who made no secret of his strategy of hijacking the resources of the Catholic Church for his self-declared revolution. IAF is, under various names, still very much a force in community organizing around the country. But why are Catholic dioceses and CCHD so hesitant to insist that assisted programs be commensurate with Catholic support and teaching? Part of the answer is a good ecumenical impulse gone awry. In many urban areas, liberal Protestant churches are a small minority in community coalitions but exercise a large influence, often because Catholics don’t want to offend them by pressing issues such as support for crisis pregnancy centers or opposition to partial-birth abortion. Another part of the answer is that it is naively assumed that more "inclusive" groups will more impartially serve "the common good," when, in fact, any viable organization has its particular goals-a.k.a. "interests"-for good or ill.

The Catholic interest, one might suggest, is to serve the common good, as that is richly and amply defined in the Church’s social doctrine. But to insist on that requires a measure of confidence in that doctrine, and such confidence is in short supply. The World Council of Churches had the slogan "The world sets the agenda for the Church." There is an analogue in the Catholic understanding that grace perfects nature and, by extension, the Church’s mission is to support the good things already happening under other auspices. There is important truth in these claims, of course. But they are truths too easily subverted and turned to alien purposes when the Church’s people and resources are placed at the disposal of those who define the good in ways that are frequently unsympathetic to or at odds with the Church’s teaching. So what our old hand is suggesting is that the criticism of some of the more egregious abuses in CCHD funding is having its effect, and that’s good. But now it’s time to go further and make the case that the "Catholic" in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development should indicate more than the source of the monies and other resources employed. It should be an honest indicator of all the ends to which they are employed.

09 November 2007

"Going green" = "dying on the vine"?

Bow before your new goddess!

Sean Cardinal O'Malley, cardinal archbishop of Boston, addresses a disturbing trend in his own Capuchin wing of the Franciscans. Noting that the next big chapter of the order is slated to amend its consititutions to be more "social justice, ecology friendly," he writes:

I have not seen the recommendations for the new Constitutions. I am told that there is a desire to introduce more Peace and Justice and Ecology into the Constitutions. I believe the Capuchins should be very much embodied in promoting the social Gospel of the Church. I would like to express two caveats. First of all there is the danger of a false sense of security. In other words by talking a lot about the social justice themes we might think that we are living a radical form of the Gospel Life. I see many religious communities in my country produce documents worthy of the Green Party, but they are dying on the vine themselves. Was it Saint Francis who said the saints did all the work and we get the credit by talking about them?

I have to think that group-think projects like the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, the Earth Charter, all that gobbly-goo about "the New Universe Story," and the Gaia movement among women religious is the death-knell of 70's religious life. Let's pray that we younger religious will not be fooled into worshiping at the altars of all these alien god/desses and lift up instead Christ the Lord as our unique source of life and goal in death.

We've been warned!

via Rocco

We are temples NOT flea markets

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Eze 47.1-12; 1 Cor 3.9-11, 16-17; John 2.13.22
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. When he went to the temple are he found a thriving flea market, a bazaar for selling sacrificial animals and bankers to change common money into temple cash. Seeing all of this, he whipped them all out, crying after them: “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” John notes that the disciples immediately recall Psalm 69.9: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” And the Jews, they ask for a sign. Jesus tells them to destroy “this temple” and he will raise it again in three days. Many years later, Paul, by way of questioning the alleged ignorance of the Corinthian church, teaches us that we are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within us. He says, “Brothers and sisters, you are God’s building…If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” How do we, the holy temples of God, turn our temples into marketplaces, into buildings that serve commerce rather than God? And, how do we drive out the unclean merchants and restore our temples to their proper purpose?

In the angelic vision, Ezekiel is shown that the temple is the center of life-giving water and fruit, the heart of the nation to which and from which the waters of the world flow, “Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live” and there will be God’s abundance. For our ancestors in faith, the temple was more than a church, more than a place to gather. The temple was the dwelling place of the Most Holy, the physical site of Heaven touching Earth. No wonder then Ezekiel is shown the temple as a source of life and abundance! And no wonder Jesus is furious with the mercantile desecration of its holy purpose.

It is not great leap to the 21st century and our own contemporary desecrations of God’s holy temples: how do we profane the person in name of commercial gain? How do we collaborate with those who would set up shop in our temples? Think about the ways our culture commercializes the body. Think about our ever-failing social norms for sex, eating, drinking, dressing. Think about how we lend our temples to these marketplaces, sell our finest bodies to the highest bidder at the auction of fashion and convenience. Think about artificial contraception as “family planning,” abortion as “optional pregnancy,” person as “product of conception.” Every merchant knows that marketing is all about perception, illusion, finding common ground for working together, the lowest common denominator.

For cash and the bottom-line, we are meat. For the culture of death—ruled by Mammon—we are cattle and lab rats, control groups and experiments. Those temples among us who are blind or lame or crippled or poor, they are all “targets for development goals” or “the means of measurable outcomes given variables.” What we cannot be and still be temples of the Most High is a means to anything else but ourselves. Make me a means and I quickly become an obstacle needing to be removed. Make you a means to an end and you become a tool for manipulation. Turn the human person into a product, a site of commercialization, and the body becomes a snack, a tiny morsel to be gobbled up, a temple for little more than the empty calories of our consumerist liturgies of self-destruction and denigration.

Hear Paul again: “Do you know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person…” Why? “…for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” You are, we are temples, where Heaven touches Earth, sites of God’s abundance, moments of God’s gracious outpouring of spirit and life; we are both the source and goal of all that water, flowing in and out to feed life inside and outside our walls. Let nothing defile the holiest of God’s dwelling places: you, consumed by zeal for the presence of the Lord!

08 November 2007

UN's New Paradigm is not Christian

from CRISIS Magazine, April 10, 2006

Facing Down the New Paradigm:
The Family Planning Agenda of the United Nations’ ‘Millennial Goals’

The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt

This past September, 170 world leaders gathered at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York for the 60th session of its General Assembly. The media focused on President Bush’s speech on terrorism and Secretary General Kofi Annan’s struggles with the oil-for-food scandal that had recently tainted his administration.

But one thing on the official agenda did not get much media notice—the evaluation of the millennial goals, adopted by 189 world heads of state in the year 2000, which proposed to end extreme poverty by the year 2015. The September gathering hoped to evaluate progress made on the goals and to determine how best to move forward on them.

In all, there are eight millennial goals:

1. to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. to achieve universal primary education
3. to promote gender equality and empower women
4. to reduce child mortality
5. to improve maternal health
6. to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. to ensure environmental sustainability
8. to develop a global partnership for development.

The first seven goals concentrate on the specific strategies for eliminating poverty, while the eighth implies that it will be done by wealthy countries delivering aid, providing debt relief, and establishing free-trade policies. One of the underlying concerns behind the millennial goals—not explicitly mentioned but never far from the surface—is the question of overpopulation.

Following President Bush to the podium was the Vatican secretary of state, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, who raised the moral and ethical issues behind the program:

We cannot offer an ambiguous, reductive or even ideological vision of health. For example, would it not be better to speak clearly of the “health of women and children” instead of using the term “reproductive health”? Could there be a desire to return to the language of a “right to abortion”?

His concerns were well-founded. In late August 2005, the Vatican Holy See had to issue a warning that a document titled “Religious Declaration on the MDG’s, Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health” was being circulated prior to the September UN meeting for the purpose of broadening the terms “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” to include abortion, contraception, and other illicit means of family planning. The Holy See raised public awareness of the initiative because it knew that—if adopted—the resolutions would strip the Church’s efforts to defend human life.

The vigilance displayed by Rome is motivated in large part by what another Vatican prelate, Javier Lorenzo Cardinal Barragán, has called the “New Paradigm” in international health care. Speaking as the president of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Healthcare Workers at the Vatican-sponsored World Day of the Sick on February 10, 2004, the cardinal sounded an alarm that this New Paradigm is completely closed to the transcendent. Refusing to acknowledge a vertical reference point, it consequently fails to give an absolute value to human life.

While recognizing that proponents of the New Paradigm do accept some notion of a divinity, the cardinal noted that theirs is but a “poetic and aesthetic god” that each individual makes up for him- or herself. This is certainly not the God of the Bible. Rather, it is evidence of a new global ethic that seeks to replace all previously known religions with a spirituality concerned with the global wellbeing of all human persons within a world order of “sustainable development”:

By sustainable development is meant a development where the different factors involved (food, health, education, technology, population, environment, etc.) are brought into harmony so as to avoid imbalanced growth and the waste of resources.

As the Pontifical Council for the Family points out, however, it is the developed countries of the world that will determine the criteria for “sustainable development” for the other nations. Thus certain rich countries and major international organizations are willing to help developing nations, but only on the condition that they accept public programs that systematically control birth rates.

In the New Paradigm, Cardinal Barragán asserts, “sustainable development” becomes the supreme ecological value. He said:

It is spiritually without God, at the secular level. Its ultimate objective is the viability of the present world, and man’s well-being in it. Practically speaking, it is a new secularist religion, a religion without God, or, if one wishes a new god, that would be the earth itself, to which the name Gaia is given. This divinity would have man as a subordinate element.... The series of values upheld by the New Paradigm are values subordinated to this diversity, which is translated into the supreme ecological value that it calls sustainable development. And within this sustainable development is the supreme ethical objective of well-being.

According to Cardinal Barragán, the grave danger of this New Paradigm is its lack of an objective standard for truth. Consensus on what to do or not to do rests on subjective opinions, which in turn gives rise to an ethic or bioethics that has no consistency.

Christianity, on the other hand, offers a “True Paradigm,” based on an objective and universal ethics. The first principle of this ethics is that human life is created by God, and from this is derived the second principle: that human life is received, not as property, but as something to be cared for. He concluded:

The human person is the synthesis of the universe and is the reason for everything that exists. Present-day biomedical sciences and technologies must be at the service of human life and not vice-versa. They are to construct man, not to destroy man.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are the two major forces behind the New Paradigm and its secular ethic. These institutions have allies in various Non-Governmental Organizations (referred to as NGOs), which are prominent promoters of an anti-natalist global ideology, among whose number are the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, Earth Council Green Peace, and the International Planned Parenthood Association. Their efforts have had far-reaching effects.

Questions regarding overpopulation have concerned the UN since its inception. Two years after the UN’s charter was ratified in 1945, the Population Commission of the Economic and Social Council was established to gather data on populations, to analyze the influence of population policies, and to study the interplay of demographics on social and economic factors. This commission helped to formulate a World Population Plan of Action at its conference in Bucharest in 1974, continued to monitor its progress at the 1984 International Conference on Population in Mexico City, and again in Cairo at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. It finally reviewed its overall progress at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

At first the commission was only involved in gathering and analyzing demographic statistics. But by the mid-1960s, its emphasis shifted to a more aggressive agenda in providing governments with advisory services, as well as training and action programs, including fertility planning.

While not the UN’s first International Conference on Population and Development (commonly referred to as ICPD), the 1994 Cairo conference is considered by most commentators a watershed moment for the advancement of secular forces to stem population growth in third-world countries (its action points were later incorporated into the millennial goals).

At the Cairo conference, 11,000 registered participants, representing some 180 governments, and more than 1,000 NGOs agreed that population issues must be addressed more forcefully if development policies were to succeed. A great emphasis was placed on the concepts of women’s empowerment and gender equality as the primary building blocks for population and development.

>From the language used in the formulation of the Cairo agreement, one begins to appreciate just how the issues of empowerment and equality begin to impact the moral decision-making of the persons who are said to benefit from such policies. The broad results aim at: (1) reduced mortality of infants; (2) broader life choices and opportunities for women; (3) the promotion of women’s rights; and (4) an increased financial investment in reproductive health and family planning. While apparently noble, the real results of these efforts are forced, manipulative programs to promote sterilization, contraception, and abortion—all of which are justified under a rationale for achieving peace, economic development, and social justice. Nowhere in the official language do you find the UN documents acknowledging the negative fallout from these radical anti-natalist policies.

The 1994 ICPD in Cairo was followed up by the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995. During the drafting of the conference’s Platform of Action, the influence of NGOs took on a decidedly pro-feminist perspective. Commenting on the outcome, Robert H. Bork observes:

At the Beijing conference, for instance, the word “family” was not to appear in the Platform. Instead, the word “household” was used. The significance of this is to be found in the feminist insistence upon use of the word “gender” [referred to 216 times in the text]. There being five genders [i.e., man, woman, lesbian, gay, and bisexual], unions or marriages involving any gender or genders are legitimate. These unions are called households. The traditional family is then presented as a household, just one form of living arrangement, not superior to any other. Indeed, since feminists view the family as a system of oppression, and since feminism contains a large lesbian component, the marriages of men and women are often seen as morally inferior to unions involving the other three genders.

Given such a political context, it was no surprise that the Beijing conference also pushed for greater expansion of legalized abortion as a legitimate method of family planning.

In February 2005, the Beijing +10 conference (i.e., ten years after the Beijing conference) drew governmental and non-governmental delegates to New York City to review the implementation of the action items agreed to at the original conference.

The United States delegation—now pursuing the pro-life position of the Bush administration—created a great deal of controversy by proposing a resolution that affirmed that the Beijing documents “do not create an international right to abortion.” The delegation hoped to draw attention to the pressure that had been placed on member countries by courts, legislatures, and NGOs to change abortion laws in accord with this supposedly agreed upon international “right.” The amendment failed on the grounds that it was unnecessary. This was tragically untrue. In July 1999, the UN General Assembly itself adopted proposals to curb the world’s population growth by means of greater “access” to abortion. The proposal was hailed by pro-abortion groups as “a giant advance beyond what was agreed to at the landmark 1994 UN population conference in Cairo.”

After last year’s meeting of Beijing +10, pro-life NGOs were barred by UN officials from speaking to or lobbying member states at the preparatory sessions for the Millennium Summit +5 Conference held this past September. At the same time, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the National Youth Network for Reproductive Rights, and Family Care International (all abortion proponents) were invited to speak to the participants. Many believe this change of approach reflects the displeasure of UN officials with the interventions of the United States and the Holy See representatives.

Speaking to the general secretary of the World Conference on Population in 1974, Pope Paul VI said:

All population policies and strategies, in the judgment of the Holy See, must be evaluated in light of the sacredness of human life, the dignity of every human being, the inviolability of all human rights, the value of marriage and the need for economic and social justice.

Surely each person and couple has a responsibility to the local and world community; but to see all progress as dependent on the decline of population growth betokens shortness of vision and failure of nerve. Economic aid for the advancement of people should never be conditioned on a decline of birth rates or in participation in family planning programs.

Not surprisingly, in 1996, the Vatican suspended its annual donation to UNICEF, citing evidence of the organization’s involvement in abortion and pushing contraceptives on teenagers. A study released in 2004 by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute cited numerous documents in which UNICEF appears to endorse abortion or to have sent funds to groups that market the RU-486 abortion pill.

In its 1994 reflection Ethical and Pastoral Dimensions of Population Trends, the Pontifical Council for the Family advised caution when reviewing the information on demographics produced by population-control programs. The council listed a number of specific practices that should be actively challenged by the Church and
her members:

1. the many attempts on the part of the “population crises ideology” to influence international agencies and governments
2. invoking so-called new “women’s rights” while underestimating a woman’s vocation to give life
3. invoking environmental questions in an excessive or improper way to justify coercive population control
4. the attempts to spread abortifacient products such as RU-486 in developing countries
5. the promotion of sterilization
6. the distribution of anti-life technologies, such as the intrauterine device
7. violating the absolute and inalienable rights of individuals and families
8. abusing moral, intellectual, and political power
9. promotion of drugs, pornography, violence, and the like.

The council urges Christians and all people of good will to educate themselves on the many ways the population-control movement uses the media to project economic and demographic statistics that are both simplistic and inexact. Professionals should be encouraged to provide correct information that both rejects a fear of life and respects the human person and the family. Governments must oppose false concepts of reproductive health that promote different methods of contraceptives or abortion; they should instead promote respect for a woman as wife and mother.

The “anti-baby” mentality, so characteristic of population-control programs, refuses to acknowledge God as the sole creator of life, and thus contributes to the culture of death. This is the New Paradigm that rejects the notion of a transcendent God and reduces moral decision-making to the realm of subjectivism. As Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed, this kind of relativism is the challenge to the gospel in the 21st century, and it will require the efforts of every Christian to overcome.

In the words of Pope Paul VI, “You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not favor an artificial control of birth…in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.”

The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt is the bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota.

06 November 2007

UN Development Goals and abortion

Quite coincidentally I've bumped into the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals three times in the last two weeks. All three times have been in Dominican publications or on Dominican websites. I have to confess that I don't pay much attention to the U.N. And what little I knew of the U.N.'s development goals, I dismissed as little more than expensive utopian socialist engineering.

It wasn't until my O.P. brothers and sisters in the Peace and Justice biz started cooing about the MDG's that I did a little research and discovered that. . .surprise!. . .the MDG's contain several innocuous "goals" that when translated into Real-Life Language mean "guaranteeing free access to contraception and abortion on demand."

The really disturbing thing here is the number of Catholic universities and colleges that have signed on to the MDG's w/o much critical engagement with the context and long history of the MDG's. You have to do a little digging to discover that, for example, Goal #5--improving maternal health care--is really just a way of disguising universal abortion rights and free access to contraception. The meat of the goals is found in the implementation reports and by carefully reading the "Reservations" issued by signatory nations. Several predominately Catholic nations have signed onto the MDG's but have publicly stated that they will not interpret Goal #5 to include abortion or contraception.

This sounds like an excellent topic for Catholic bloggers to tackle! No doubt faithful Catholics need more info and better teaching on the Church's social justice ministry. . .but it doesn't seem to me that MDG's is the way to go.

05 November 2007

Devil in a giftbox

31st Week OT(M): Romans 11.29-36 and Luke 14.12-14
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

The clock is ticking down to Christmas Eve and my mom and I are in some nameless store full of the same stuff that gets stuffed into every other nameless store at Christmas, and we’re both staring holes in our gift lists, hoping, praying that the long line of names will somehow magically shrink or just disappear; but, if anything the queue of hungry gift-getters seems to get longer with each gift we buy and our frustration and aggravation grows as we come to the firm conclusion that we are no longer Shopping for Gifts but Hunting for Sacrifices to throw into the growling maw of the idol of seasonal expectation and social niceness, sacrifices meant to appease some distance deity of mercantile exchange, a god or goddess who feeds on the living impatience of the ungifted, the stress of the holiday procrastinator, and the anxiety of the absent-minded. You are freed from this monster when you realize that you are no longer looking for gifts for people you love and respect but shopping for merchandise to exchange with those most likely to present you with a wrapped box at a holiday party or family event. Your “gift” is really just a hedged bet against the almost certainty that Bob or Sue or Bill or Jack will hand you Something. You had better have Something to hand back. The moment you let go of the idea that gifting has anything at all to do with exchanging, you are free from the slavery of the holiday shopping goddess.

This notion that gifting is a species of exchanging is not limited to Christmas present-giving. We find the temptation to appease the goddess of exchange in most of our social doings. Jesus is invited to one of these doings and takes the opportunity to teach those gathered a little lesson in the true nature of gifting. He tells his Pharisee host and the other guests that a truly gracious dinner, that is, a God-graced banquet, will not be attended by friends, family members, and wealthy neighbors—those, in other words, who can and will invite you to their place in return. The truly God-graced banquet will be packed full of the poor, the crippled, the lame, and blind—those, in other words, who cannot and will not invite you to a dinner party in exchange for your initial generosity. Though you will not be invited to their place for dinner, you will be “blessed indeed…because of their inability to repay you.” This is soul of the gift.

This is one of Jesus’ more straightforward teachings on the nature of generosity. Not too far underneath or too far behind this teaching on gifting is another teaching on the nature of our salvation. Deeply seated in the Jewish religious imagination is the ritual power of exchange, gifts changing hands under the terms of a covenant. Gifts are given to God in the temple to strengthen belonging, to maintain purity or to reestablish purity, for healing and health. From the creature’s side of the covenant nothing divine is free. The New Covenant is a theological, philosophical, spiritual coup, overthrowing the older means of belonging, purifying, and healing. As the perfect gift, we are given Christ on the Cross once. There is no exchange. Our Father, as the wealthy host, has invited us—the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the sinful—has invited us to His banquet with no expectation of receiving anything in return. What could we give God in return for His gift of Himself? The only possibility is for us to bundle ourselves up into His gift of Himself and give ourselves back in Christ. And so you are here to add yourself, we are here to add ourselves to the sacrificial offerings of the altar, placing ourselves under the hands of Christ’s priest as the priest prays, “Lord, send your Spirit upon these gifts that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, your Son, Jesus Christ.” Though we are not worthy to receive the Lord into our house, we are made worthy of His irrevocable gifts, His irrevocable call, made worthy by His mercy.

Walk out that door this morning having offered yourself as a gift to the Father, fully prepared and empowered to invite to your table all those who cannot repay your gift to them: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

04 November 2007

"God Remembers" climbs a tree

31st Sunday OT(C): Wisdom 11.22-12.2; 2 Thess 1.11-22; Luke 19.1-10
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

Do you daily, hourly seek to see who Jesus is? This is a good definition of hope, isn’t it? When you hope, you seek to see who Jesus was, is, and will be. For us, redeemed creatures that we are, for us, living in us, is a beastly longing for God. A caged need that roars out for our Lord, reaching for him, yearning for the totality that is He Who made us and re-makes us. Knowing that He is there and knowing that He makes it possible for us to be with Him only sharpens the aggravated need, edges the fine steel of our wanting. That knowing, that knowledge of His presence and the keenness we feel in moving toward Him, that is what we call Hope. But I wonder: for how many of us is hoping a kind of gambling? Think how you use the word “hope.” I hope my paycheck has arrived. I hope the children are OK. I hope the doctor’s report is good. Hopefully, the car is fixed. Hopefully, I made an “A” on my paper. Is this really hope? Or, is it “crossed-fingers-wishing-on-a-star-where’s-my-lucky-charm-so-I-can-rub-it-and-increase-the-odds-in-my-favor” thinking? How often, when you hope, are you actually doing little more than wishing yourself good luck? Christian hope, that is, that sort of hope that Christians experience in Christ and that sort of hope that we live by, grow in, and die with, is never a gamble, never a wish, never a spell for luck. Hope is our gnawing hunger for God, a hunger we KNOW will be satisfied.

“Zacchaeus…was seeking to see who Jesus was;…so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus…” Christian hope—our longing for Christ—is what pushed Zacchaeus up the tree; hope is what pulled him up into the branches to see who he needed to see. And what’s important for us to remember about Zacchaeus is who he is; that is, not only his name, his short stature, and his need to see Jesus, but his place in the Jewish scheme of things as well. He is “a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man…” Zacchaeus is doubly damned as a sinner by his neighbors because he has betrayed them by working for the enemy, and because he has grown rich in his chosen, traitorous profession. Only lepers and pagan temple prostitutes were considered more sinful! And yet, he seeks to see who Jesus is.

Do you daily, hourly seek to see who Jesus was, is, and will be?

Who was he, is he and who will he always be? The Book of Wisdom tells us that “before the Lord the whole universe is a grain from a balance…a drop of morning dew…” However, despite our smallness, in spite of our insignificance before Him, “[the Lord has] mercy on all, because [He] can do all things; and [He] overlooks people’s sins that they may repent.” If Zacchaeus knows this, if he knew his scripture and if he knew and believed that Jesus is his Lord, then climbing that sycamore tree is sure sign of his hope. Zacchaeus knew and we must learn that “[The Lord] love[s] all things that are and loathe[s] nothing that [He] has made; for what [He] hate[s], [He] would not have fashioned.”

Why must we learn this? Simple. If you believe that our Lord hates what He has fashioned, including you and me, then your hope will always be gamble. Your spiritual life will be full of good luck rituals, charm bracelet prayers, and magical thinking. You will turn every corner tensed, expecting a nasty, divine surprise. You will go to bed every night believing that your hateful god will take the opportunity to punish your laziness, to strike your sinful heart dead. You will look at your family, your friends, your fellow Christians and see nothing but walking, talking occasions of sin, breathing temptations that plague your worried attempts at finding favor, finding love in God. And you live a life that daily, hourly makes a lie out of the truth of our Father’s self-revelation to us: “…you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all thing!” All things! Including your family, your friends, your fellow Christians.

Do you daily, hourly seek to see who Jesus was, is, and will be? Do you daily, hourly seek to see Jesus in your neighbors, your roommates, your parents? If not, why not? Is it that your neighbors, roommates, parents are all imperfect? Or, is it that they are pro-abortion, homosexual, divorced, adulterers, liars? Or, is it that they do not share your theology? Or pray as you do? Or share your devotional practices, your sense of social justice, your indignation with the belligerent Bush administration, or your disdain for the culture of death Democrats? Or, is it because you have not yet come to the truth of your creation and your re-creation? Do you not seek Christ in yourself and others b/c you cannot see beyond your sin, hear over your own keening for your disobediences? Why would you allow any of these to spoil your hope, to mess with your beautiful God-graced passion for the Lord? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever!

If you are worried that this seeking Christ in self and others will lead to a libertine license to sin, will open the floodgates of approval for sin, listen to the rest of Wisdom. Our Lord’s imperishable spirit is in all the things He created, “therefore, [He] rebukes offenders little by little, warns them and reminds them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in [Him]…!” Our Lord does not forget His creatures. He does not forget that we are His creatures and that we share His image and likeness. In fact, Paul tells the Thessalonians, that he, Paul, and his ministers will pray for them so “that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…” Does this sound like a deity ready, willing, and able to stomp on you at the first sign of disobedience? No! And not only NO! but God is ready to “make you worthy of his calling.” Isn’t it the case that our rotting anxieties about sin, our worries about offending God are really just a disguise for a lack of hope? Aren’t we really worried about the sins of our neighbors, our children, our roommates b/c we are distrusting of our Father’s promise of mercy for ourselves? How ironic would it be if you put yourself in Hell because you spent your life worried about sin and failed to hope in Christ!?

Zacchaeus climbs the sycamore tree because he “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” Because he acts out of his longing for Christ, his hope for the Father’s love, Jesus calls his name and says, “…come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus climbs down and “receives [Christ] with joy.” And what do the self-righteous do? What do those whose hope is a gamble, those whose hope is a lucky star, what do they do then? “When they all saw this, they began to grumble…” And rather than run away in shame or hide his face in disgrace, Zacchaeus, confident in his Lord’s word and his own repentance, gives half his wealth to the poor and makes restitution four times over for his extortion. Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house…”

Do you daily, hourly seek to see who Jesus was, is, and will be? Do you daily, hourly seek to see Jesus in your neighbors, your roommates, your parents and friends? If so, then prepare to receive the Lord at your table; prepare to entertain him among those in most need of his mercy. Your hope is working for your perfection and Christ is coming to dinner! If your hope remains a wishing-star or lucky charm, then memorize this prayer from scripture: “Lord, you love all things that are and loathe nothing you have made; for what you hate, you would not have fashioned…But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

Oh, and couldn’t hurt to pray that prayer while climbing the nearest sycamore tree…