15 December 2008

When YES leads to despair

3rd Week Advent (T): Zep 3.1-2, 9-13; Matt 21.28-32
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

For those who wander in the desert, relying on one another for survival, relying on family and friends to live day to day, relying on the providence of God to flourish where they find themselves, for these folks, the city, with all its complications and distractions, represents everything that can go wrong with the human spirit. The city is clogged with unnamed faces. It’s dirty, polluted with waste. Filled to the brim with crime, sin, disease. Souls are detached from one another. There is no communion, only commerce. No peace, no silence. Only racket, wrecks, riots, and the tyranny of loneliness. For those who wander in the desert, relying on family, friends, and the Lord, their God, the city is Sin given architecture and a population. The city is a disobedient mouth, gaping in the desert, shouting up at God, “rebellious and polluted,” a mouth both defiant and desperate, shouting up at God, “I WILL NOT!” This is the start of loneliness, the beginning of despair: the first step is to shout NO! at God.

The first son shouts, “I will not!” when asked by his father to work in the vineyard. The second son, when ordered to go to work among the vines, says, “Yes, sir!” The defiant son, his disobedient mouth twisted with rebellion, resolves his heart and mind and goes to work despite his first wrong step. The compliant son, his obedient mouth ready with yes’s and sir’s, has no resolution in his heart or mind and goes ahead instead to do his own will. Jesus asks the chief priests and elders, “Which of the two [sons] did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus agrees. The first son took the first step to loneliness and despair by defying the will of his father. But he repented and did as he was told. The second son also took the first step to loneliness and despair. Even though his compliant mouth said, “Yes, sir”, his rebellious will said no, leaving him set aside, detached, without the help of his father.

Jesus tells the chief priests and the elders of the people that they are like the second son, obedient in word, mouthing yes yes but doing nothing, believing less, watching the rebellious prostitutes, the loathsome tax-collectors change their defiant NO’s to loving YES’s, and yet, even with John coming to them “in the way of righteousness,” they do not believe; they do not act. And so they stand together in their loneliness and despair, poking around for visions and signs and wonders, wandering the desert of the sinful city, rebellious and polluted with yes on their lips but the heavy darkness of no in their hearts.

Our Lord comes. If your mouth says yes, let it come from a heart and mind given to the Lord. If your mouth says no, let it come from a heart and mind willing to change, willing to repent. The rebellious and polluted city is no place for a son or daughter of the Lord.


  1. is this a personal "city" or a city with others? cuz in that case wouldn't we need to drag a few others out of the city with us on our way??

    just wondering.


  2. I Smell PLATO... >_> <_< O_o

  3. Daniel,

    You smell PLAY-DOH! Stop sniffing kids' toys, son! It's bad for ya.

  4. And then there is the completely honest and well intentioned "yes" that one says with a mind and heart wanting to please...until human weakness trips the soul and before one knows it the action trumps the word and "no" wins...so the soul trusts in Jesus' kindness and mercy and gets up from the fall and asks Jesus to help him say "yes" and this time give the perserverence to follow through...thank you Jesus. Any good a soul does is all from Jesus. All goodness is from Him anyway. The only thing that I own, that comes from me, that I can bring to God that is not His already is my sinfulness. His Mercy is our hope. We see Mercy on the Cross. I like to imagine a set of scales with my sins on one side and the Precious Blood on the other side. The Precious Blood wins! Amen.

  5. Anonymous1:25 AM

    What, then, to do with Manhattan and its soup kitchens, and its people that are beyond any friendliness witnessed on the "pure" plains?

    Are you talking LITERAL cit?
    Are you saying we drag the city with us when we rebel? I don't see your usual claritas here.

    Maybe I've been drinking polluted tap water too long.

    I've been reading about Thomas Merton. I love him.

    He said that the religious life is a struggle. That if it's not difficult, it's not the path.

    I love him. He also loved deeply, turned from it and kept his vows.

    I find this amazing. What a guy.

  6. Anon,

    I'm not understanding your question.

    The city is both literal and figurative in this homily. In the OT, cities were always evil.

  7. Anonymous11:58 PM

    I don't understand the answer.

    In Dostoyevsky they're questionable, too.

    I'm talking in REAL life.

    You seem to posit that cities are evil now.

    I didn't get it. Maybe I'm a dolt.

  8. Of course you don't understand my answer...it's difficult to write a comprehensible answer to an incomprehensible question.

    If your question is, are cities always morally evil? the answer is no, of course not. Literally, cities can't be morally evil b/c they are not moral agents. But I'm hardly being literal in my homily.

    If you read Zeph 3 (the Mass reading assigned for that day) you will read a typical description of how the OT folks tended to view cities. Cities, they thought, tempted people to stripped themselves of their most basic relationships: family, religion, etc. in favor of rebellion.

    The first son is an example of this rebellion, refusing his father's orders. The second son is also an example of this rebellion though in a different way.

  9. Anonymous1:45 AM

    yes, thank you for the reprimand regarding my own intellect and your astonishing insight.

    I'm wowed by you all the time. I think you're Barth and Bellow all rolled into one big tube of biscuits.

    you're polite, kind, patient and astute beyond anything witnessed in this galaxy.

    are you REAL? Or too dreamy godlike to be true?

    Or, when you fall short, you have the great excuse. "I'm all goofed up; therefore, I'm Catholic. And, btw, I'm in a BAD mood."

    Like a baby. you are.

    God dang. You're enough to make two people NOT go to UD.

    Congratulations. They got into Harvard.

    You're kinda biploar, buddy.

    Faith Hill

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Faith,

    Thanks for the Olympian insights. I'll time take later today to weep over them.

    Here's an idea...post a polite, comprehensible question and you'll get a polite, comprehensible answer.

    I find it bizarre that you come here with a giant chip on your shoulder, slinging attitude and insults, and yet you expect me to receive you with timidity and patience. This is your problem. No one else who reads or comments on this blog has this problem with me.

    So, we can try this again if you like...however, send anything but a polite question and you're banned...I don't have time to manage anymore nonsense.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  12. Anonymous2:58 AM

    er, i think sometimes people don't know how to take your criticism. i think they come to the site with good intentions and then you're a little testy and they "go off. '

    i've seen you be rather harsh, unduly sometimes.

    i guess take the heat or get out of the priory?

    it's the www and it brings all comers.

    i find you grouchy, too. but worth it.

    i don't have a chip on my shoulder. it's just my take on it.

    Faith Hill is a country singer, btw.


  13. Anonymous3:08 AM

    Thank you for the spew from hell.

    Other people have had problems with you. How soon you forget.

    You bellow and blow like an anvil.

    Oh, well. Then you say you're a mere mortal and that's why you're a Catholic. You need to be reformed. Or that's a paraphrase.

    I did come and offer a polite question. You turned it nasty. It began with "of course it's an incomprehensible answer. It's an incomprehensible question."

    No one else finds me incomprehensible. You are the one with the chip on your shoulder -- or in your head.

    Ban me. Ban me. Ban me.

    Geez. You're a nut.

    A sermon one time and a excoriating off-putting weird diatribe the next.

    Watch out. Your head might start to spin around and around and around.

    Weep over that. Neri wept.

  14. As you can see, folks, our dear "Faith" (and I know who this is, btw) can't produce a single civilized comment, so she will no longer be commenting here at all.

    Pray for her. Methinks she doth PROJECT too much (isn't that the word you psychology majors use, "Faith"?).

  15. Harry,

    Here's the thing...if I had a dime for every time someone called me an asshole, I wouldn't need a Wish List nor would I be sitting here for Christmas rather than being with my family in MS.

    What some people want me to be is a mild-mannered, hand-wringing, mealy-mouthed priest who never offends, who never says anything of substance, who never does anything of consequence. In other words, American Catholics have become addicted to priests being "wounded healers," "foolish clowns," pastors who just nod and say sweet things and never, ever, ever tell you the truth.

    "Faith's" problem is that I once told her the truth. She knows what I told her is the truth. That's why she keeps coming back for more. She pissed at herself for doing what she did but she doesn't have the courage (yet) to accuse herself and seek forgiveness...so, she wants me to be her punching bag for a while. Sorry. Not my job this week.

    I'll happily take mounds of abuse from those on the mend. I served five years as an AA, NA, SA group facilitator, and I've taken my share of abuse from addicts of all sorts. But the only reason I did it was b/c the people who dished it were at the point where they were willing to work and needed the help.

    "Faith" isn't there yet. And I don't have time to manage the nonsense of addicts...until they are ready to 'fess up, that is...

    Fr. Philip, OP