16 February 2008

Confessional Advice

Advice from Fr. Philip Neri’s Confessional

I. Starting point:

1. Sin. When we sin we abuse a gift from God. Just about every sin we commit can be traced back to a disordered use of some grace we have received from God. Abusing God’s gifts is a dangerous practice b/c it is through the charitable use of our divine gifts for others that God perfects His love us. If you are not using your gifts for the benefit of others then God’s love is not being perfected in you.

2. Forgiveness. When we ask for forgiveness we are not asking God to do something He has not already done. All of our sins are forgiven right now. All of them. Then why go to confession? God gives us forgiveness always, constantly, without ceasing. We go to confession to receive His forgiveness. Let’s say I call you up and tell you that I’ve purchased a nice Easter ham for you at Central Market. It’s a gift from me to you and your family. I give you this ham. For the ham to be a proper gift, you have to go get it. Once you have received the ham, it is a gift. The ham is no less real b/c you haven’t picked it up yet. The ham doesn’t materialize out of thin air when you go to Central Market and ask for it. The ham is just sitting there waiting for you to come ask for. The same is true for God’s forgiveness. Just ask and you will receive.

3. Charity. Once you have received your gift of forgiveness, you need to put it into action as a gift for others. We do not have the option of failing to forgive. We are commanded to love and when we love, we forgive; i.e., You give your gift of divine forgiveness away by forgiving me my sins against you. In this way, you enact your most basic ministry as Christ to me.

II. The Sins (in order of frequency heard in the Box)

4. Lust. What gift does lust pervert? You might be tempt to say “love” or “sex,” but I would say “beauty.” We know from the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei verbum) that God reveals Himself to us through His creation, His only Son, and scripture. As the rational members of His creation, we humans are particularly capable of revealing Who God Is, that is, of revealing Divine Beauty, Goodness, and Truth to others. In other words, you are a revelation of God to me and I to you. When you see a beautiful woman (or man) she is beautiful b/c God’s beauty is being revealed through her. She serves as an icon through which God shines His beauty and through which you receive His beauty. Your attraction to her is the attraction you know and feel for Beauty Himself. When you take that Beauty and pervert it for temporary pleasure (porn, masturbation), you sin against God.

Advice: Begin to habituate yourself to giving God thanks for the Beauty He reveals to you. When you see an attractive person lift them up in your mind and say, “Thank you, Lord, for showing me your beauty through this beautiful person!” Be truly grateful each and every time. Over time, it will become harder and harder to think of others as objects when you know that they are actually icons.

5. Envy: What gift does envy pervert? I would say that envy perverts the nature of giftedness itself. We are all created as graced creatures…THAT we exist at all is a grace, a gift of God. Beyond the gift of existence, each of us is gifted in some particular fashion—singing, writing, patience, piety, etc. These gifts are mixed and matched and combined in all sorts of odd configurations. Our job is to organize these gifts into a coherent “charitable personality,” to become the best possible version of ourselves that these gifts will allow. The way we do this is to use the gifts for others. When we do this God’s love is perfected in us. However, when I lust after the gifts of my friends and neighbors, ignoring my own gifts in favor of coveting theirs, I fail to use my own gifts and God’s love is not perfected in me. So, envy is a double-edged sin in that it promotes covetousness and makes us lazy in being charitable.

Advice: Being grateful is the key here. When you feel yourself becoming envious of another’s gifts, stop and give God thanks for that person’s gifts. Pray that they might use their gifts well and grow in holiness. Gratitude is one of the things that the devil can’t fight against. A truly grateful heart is well protected from temptation.

6. Gossip: What sin does gossip pervert? Gossip tends to pervert the gift of Truth, or in other words, gossip distorts our view of objective reality in favor of the illusions generated by lust, envy, jealousy, etc. Depending on the subject of the gossip, gossip is exciting b/c there is the great potential there for making oneself look good or better in front of friends. It is important to us that we appear to be “hooked in,” so we gossip. Gossip, in its worse form, is also a form of tearing people down—lying exaggerating, etc. all build up a false picture that then gets used to make rash judgments.

Advice: St. Philip Neri once took a penitent to the top of his church. He handed the woman a feather pillow and told her to rip the pillow open and scatter the feathers. She did so, watching the thousands of feathers fly all over the city. He then told her that her penance was to go and collect every feather. Such is the nature of gossip.

7. Doubt/Not praying: These sins can also be understood as a perversions of God’s Truth. One thing we have to get clear, however, is there is doubt and there is Doubt. Little “d” doubt is acceptable if and only if you are truly confused about or unsure of the right way to think about and believe an article of the faith. Being ignorant of a teaching can lead to doubt, so can the complexity of some of our beliefs. Big “D” Doubt occurs when you are actually rejecting a de fide (of the faith) teaching of the church for no other reason than you don’t like the teaching or that you the teaching teaches against your favorite sin. This occurs a lot with contraception, masturbation, and pre-martial sex. So, when you confess “doubt” be sure and distinguish between the two. Doubt often leads us to stop praying or to stop using the sacraments.

Advice: Know your faith! You are responsible for knowing and living the faith as it has been given to the Church. If you are truly confused about a teaching, ask for help or get a copy of the Catechism. If you find yourself Doubting, try saying to yourself: “I am one person in a two-thousand year old Church. I’m smart but I’m not Two-Thousand Years Smart, so I will assent to this teaching and assume that my rejection of the teaching is based on my ignorance and not on the falsity of the teaching.” This is a properly humble way of approaching difficult teachings. When you find yourself unable to pray with any eagerness or force, just pray anyway…”fake it ‘til you make it through the dry spell.” Prayer is a habit like any other and requires constant maintenance. Prayer is the means by which God speaks to us, so keep the channel open even when you are convinced that there’s no one on the other end. Think of yourself lost on a deserted island and you have a radio. When you give up hope that you will be rescued, you will turn the radio off. How will the rescue team find you then? Leave it on so you catch anything that might come through. In fact, pick several times during the day when you will sit with the radio and broadcast your location.

8. Lack of charity: This is a really BIG sin. This sin perverts God’s love. First, we are commanded by Christ to love one another. He never says that we have to like one another. This is the whole problem with equating “loving others” with “being nice to others.” We should be nice to other out of a sense of civility but the failure to be pleasant or polite is not a sin. When you find yourself actively working against the Good of another person, then you are in trouble. Charity requires that we will the Good of the other at all times. I can truly dislike someone and still will the Good for them. In fact, there may be more merit to loving someone you dislike. “Willing the Good” requires that we treat others as persons with their own ends, meaning we treat others as fellow creatures created in the image and likeness of God. We cannot use people as means to other ends. This is uncharitable.

Advice: Giving thanks for everyone in your life is key to being charitable to these people. Pay attention to how you are thinking and feeling about the people you interacted with daily. For everyone you meet send up a prayer that whatever they need to grow in holiness will be given to them. If there is someone you really, really dislike make that person a part of your daily thanksgiving. Have a Mass said for them! Beware one common pitfall: “Please, Lord, help Philip to change his ridiculous ways and make him a agree with me about X.” This is a prayer to change me to fit your expectations of who you want me to be. For some reason, I find mothers are terribly burdened with this temptation, especially when it comes to their children! Try instead: “Lord, I give you thanks for Philip. Grant him all he needs to grow in holiness.”

III. Resisting Temptation

9. Temptation: Temptation is the pressure we feel when our disordered desires rise up and urge us to indulge them against God’s will for us. Entertaining a temptation is not a sin. Merely thinking about lying is not the sin of lying. However, if you decide to lie and do so “in your heart,” then you have lied whether you actually give voice to the lie or not.

10. Resistance: When you resist temptation on your own you are rejecting God’s grace and denying the victory of the Cross. There is no reason to resist temptation. You are perfectly free not to sin. Rather than steel yourself against temptation and fight like mad to resist the sin, turn and face the temptation square on. Name it. Hand it over to God. And move on. Resistance is actually the first step we take toward the sin. Be honest: how many times have you resisted a temptation only to submit to it eventually? What you are doing is habituating yourself to surrendering to sin. Break the cycle here by taking control of the temptation itself. Let’s say you are being tempted to lie to your professor about cheating on a paper. Say to God, “Lord, I am being tempted to lie to Dr. Jones about my paper. I give this temptation to you to deal with. I’m going to the library. Amen.” This is both an act of the intellect and an act of the will. Habituate yourself to using Christ’s victory over sin and stop resisting temptation!


No doubt there is much more I could say here. Much, much more. But these are the common sins I hear in the Box. Keep these basic principles in mind at all times:

You are free. Right now, right this second, you are free. You do not have to sin.

You cannot sin in ignorance or by accident or by being forced or coerced.

Mortal sins “kill charity in your heart.” Ask yourself: have I killed charity in my heart? Don’t turn every sin into a mortal sin “just in case.”

For most sins only you can decide whether or not you have sinned, meaning, sinning is a highly subjective affair and you must decide what your intent was at the time. Of course, there are intrinsically morally evil acts but these acts have to be committed before they are sins in the real world. If you commit an IMEA, then you have sinned objectively. Examples of IMEA’s are murder, apostasy, adultery.

I hope these help during your Lenten journey to Jerusalem and the Cross!

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15 February 2008

The heart of the other

1st Week of Lent (F): Ez 18.21-28 and Matt 5.20-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club and Church of the Incarnation

Aren’t we accustomed to Jesus saying ridiculous things? He always seems to be pulling some kind of joke on his disciples. It’s like that 70’s martial-arts western, “Kung Fu,” where the novice monk, young Cain, is challenged by his blind master to walk on rice paper without tearing it or to catch a fly with his chopsticks or wrestle with a riddle like “what was your face before you were born”? Jesus tells his disciples to abandon family and friends and follow him to a certain death on a cross in Jerusalem. He tells them to walk on water, cast out demons; he tells them that they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. As our Brit brothers and sisters say, “He’s having a laugh.” All the more unusual then is this teaching from Matthew that makes perfect, practical sense: your sacrifice at the altar of God is rendered unacceptable, unclean by a heart darkened with selfish anger toward a brother or sister; with a sin against family or friends; or squeezed by the cold vise of rash judgment. Be reconciled first with the one against whom your heart is set, and then offer your gift at the altar. Very sensible. But Jesus can’t seem to resist just one small twist to keep us vigilant.

What’s the twist? Listen carefully, “…if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave the gift there…go first and be reconciled…” Did you catch it? If you recall that your brother has anything against you. Jesus tweaks his otherwise sensible teaching with a characteristically Jesus tweak: we expect him to say, “If you have anything against your brother…” What he actually says is quite different: if you know that your brother has something against you, it is your responsibility to go to him and reconcile. This tweak in the teaching serves to emphasize (in dramatic fashion) how important it is to serve our Lord a clean, a contrite heart—the one and only sacrifice we make for holiness! By making it my job to approach the brother I’ve sinned against, Jesus lifts us the radical nature of God’s love, the divine love that makes it possible for us to love in the first place. He turns us out of our self-pitying navel-gazing to face the one we’ve rashly judged.

The Lord tells the prophet, Ezekiel: “…if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life…” The wicked man “turns away” (i.e., repents) of his sins and lives. But his “turning away” is made good not by the act of turning away (remember: we do not earn forgiveness) but by the mercy of God who has promised (repeatedly promised) to honor our conversions from sin with forgiveness. In other words, we are forgiven NOW and urged to repent in order that that forgiveness might be made productive for us.

Jesus’ tweak—his insistence that I approach the one whom I have sinned against, the one whom I have given reason to be angry with me—this tweak guarantees my obligation to seek reconciliation, holds me directly responsible for helping my brother or sister to approach the altar with a contrite heart. For this difficult requirement we can only be grateful b/c when one member of the Body is reconciled to God, we are all made one soul cleaner! Notice also that this tweak assumes that you know you have sinned against another. Yet again, Jesus makes it difficult for us to say something like, “Well, if she has a problem with what I said or did, she needs to come to me and say so.” That attitude makes you the fool and the one you have sinned against “will hand you over to the judge…”

We march our way across the Lenten desert to Jerusalem and the Cross of Christ. This is the time to cry out from the depths of your heart and seek the Lord’s kindness in repentance. Does your soul wait for the Lord? Do you know that if He held our sins against us, we could not stand at His altar?

13 February 2008

Go into all the world and apologize in my name...

Here is the inevitable result, the tragic and entirely predictable end of syncreticism in the Christian church:

LOS ANGELES - The Bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles has issued an apology to Hindus worldwide for what he called "centuries-old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them" reports India Abroad. The apology was given in a statement read to over 100 Hindu spiritual leaders at a mass from Right Reverend J John Bruno. The ceremony started with a Hindu priestess blowing a conch shell three times and included sacred chants.

OK. Nothing wrong with apologizing for past hurts. . .IF you are the one who did the hurting. . .otherwise it is a form of public self-loathing and false pride.

But what instigated this need to apologize on the part of Mr. Bruno?

This meeting was the result of a dialogue, started three years ago, between Hindu leaders and Rev. Karen MacQueen, who was deeply influenced by Hindu Vedanta philosophy and opposes cultivating conversions.

And the result (i.e., punchline) of this "influence"?

"There are enough Christians in the world," [the Episcopagan priestess] said.

Yup. . .that is exactly why Jesus died on the Cross. . .so those who claim to follow him and those who vow to preach his gospel can betray him just one more time. . .

Link to the original article (though the headline makes no sense)

12 February 2008

More poetry vids...(edited)

I had to edit these down to two vids b/c the post was so large it was causing download problems for some readers. . .you can find all of the vids I had here on YouTube.com. . .

11 February 2008


1st Week of Lent (M): Lev 19.1-2, 11-18 and Matt 25.31-46
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

To the sheep on his right our Lord will say on the Last Day, “Come, you who are blessed of by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you…” To the goats on his left our Lord will say on the Last Day, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” As we might expect, the accursed goats object to this judgment and Jesus unambiguously lays out the reasons for his judgment against them. What’s interesting (and unexpected) is that the blessed sheep are surprised by their judgment. After welcoming the sheep into the kingdom, our Lord explains his judgment saying, “…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…” When the goats object to their sentence our Lord justifies his judgment by pointing out the chief failures of the goats, “…I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink…” What these two groups have in common is their surprise at having served or not served the Lord unawares. Both groups ask, “Lord, when did we see you a stranger and welcome you (or, not welcome you), or naked or thirsty and give you drink (or, not give you drink)?” Jesus’ resounding answer is almost harsh in its clarity: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did (or did not do) for one of these least brothers of mine, you did (or did not do) for me.” Always the good Jew, Jesus is showing his disciples how the Law is worked out with the Messiah in their midst.

Not a few Christians dislike this part of Matthew. I’ve found it to be a particularly sore subject for more traditionalist-minded Catholics who see the emphasis on “social justice/good works” as a possible danger to sound doctrine and proper devotion. They are not wrong to worry about this. I’ve heard many an eager Catholic say, “Oh, all we need to do is feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Leave all that rigid dogma stuff and sappy devotional nonsense aside. Just help the poor!” Unfortunately, both groups of our brothers and sisters have missed the point entirely. This apocalyptic scene of sheep blessing and goat roasting from Matthew is most certainly about the Last Judgment and what counts as a ticket to blessing or roasting. However, this scene is also—and I would bet mostly about—Jesus being a good Jewish teacher and showing his disciples what it means to not only follow the letter of the Law of the Decalogue but to fulfill its spirit for Christ’s sake. For—Christ’s—sake. That phrase is the difference that makes the difference btw an eternal life of bliss or an eternal life of blisters.

Remember now, both the sheep and the goats wonder when they have served (or failed to serve) the Lord. The Lord’s answer is beautiful in its simplicity: when you serve them (or fail to) you serve me (or fail to). When we serve the hungry, the foreigner, the thirsty, when we serve them and not our social justice agenda and not our corporal works of mercy devotionals and not our applications for law school or med school and not our guilty consciences and not our community service hours—when we serve them as brothers and sisters, we serve Christ. This follows the letter of the Law from Leviticus—“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy…[therefore] you shall love your neighbor as yourself”—AND it fulfills the Law in our Messianic age—“…whatever you did for the least of mine, you did for me.”

Our psalm this morning says it perfectly, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye.” When faced, at last, with our Lord on his judgment seat attended by his throng of angels, let him see your joyful heart, your enlightened eyes. . .and your callused hands and sore back, your body bent from doing NOT the just thing or the pious thing, but all the merciful things that make us just and pious sheep.

10 February 2008

What he assumes, he heals...*

1st Sunday of Lent(A): Gen 2.7-9, 3.1-7; Rom 5.12, 17-19, Matt 4.1-11
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

John baptizes Jesus. Coming up out of the Jordan River, Jesus sees the Spirit as a dove and hears the voice of his Father, “This is my beloved Son…” Stepping onto the bank of the river, Jesus is seized by the Spirit and lead into the desert “to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights. When he is weak from hunger, possibly addled from lack of sleep, and vulnerable to attack, the Tempter comes to offer him what we all would imagine is foremost in his mind right that moment: food! Jesus refuses food. The Tempter then offers him two more enticements: one of pride (to exploit his status as the Son of God) and another of avarice and power (to become the ruler of the world). Jesus deftly turns both away, leaving the Devil to flee in order to make room for the Father’s ministering angels. Though we are no doubt delighted that Jesus won his battle of wills with the Devil, we may wonder why the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh, is “lead by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” in the first place? Does the Father need to test His Son? Does the Spirit suspect a weakness in the resolve of the Lamb to be sacrificed? Why is Jesus tempted in the desert? And how do these temptations lead him and us with him to Jerusalem and the Cross?

With a smudge of ash on the forehead and the solemn greeting on Ash Wednesday, “From dust you were made, to dust you will return,” we begin in earnest another Lenten trek with Christ to Jerusalem and his Cross. What are we marking with these ashes? What does that frightful greeting bring to mind? First, we are beckoned by an undeniable reality: our mortality, our frailty as creatures: the inevitability of death. Ash Wednesday is a crowded day at Church because we know we are dust and breath and that eventually we will die. Those ashes mark us as impermanent things…and they are a blessing on our transience. Second, we are summoned on Ash Wednesday to commit ourselves to the forty day/forty night trek across the Lenten desert with Christ. Nowhere else will our frailty, our weakness be tested so completely. Random chance, freak accident may surprise us with a test of faith and courage, but at no other time in the year do we knowingly step up, stare the Devil in the eye, and dare him to tempt us. Lent is our bravest Christian adventure. Finally, third, we are reminded again that though we are frail creatures subject to devilish temptation and the chaos of nature’s chance, we are Creatures—Made Beings, beings made, created in the image and likeness of a loving Creator! And what’s more, we are Redeemed Creatures—finally, mercifully saved creatures, loved into the Father through His Son by the Spirit. This is who we are as we touch the first tempting grains of Lenten sand.

Now that we are reminded of who we are, let’s go back to my first questions: why is Jesus tempted in the desert? And how do these temptations lead him and us with him to Jerusalem and the Cross? We have already run into the question, or one almost exactly like it: why must Jesus, the sinless Son of God, be baptized? Jesus is tempted for the same reason that he is baptized. For us. Jesus is brought through the desert to Jerusalem and his Cross for us as one of us. Fully human. A man like us in every way but one: he was without his own sin. With needs, passions, hurts, loves, and temptations, the Son of God was made flesh by the Spirit through his mother and ours, the virginal Mary. Why? So that every human wound, every human frailty, every human sin could be healed. His Cross—the tool of his torture and death—is our medicinal tool of salvation. Fully human, fully divine, he was baptized to baptize human flesh. He was tempted to temper human flesh against temptation. And he died so that we might live.

The story of the Fall told to us in Genesis tell us that our first father, Adam, was tempted to become a god in disobedience to God. He failed. Our first mother, Eve, was tempted to become a god in disobedience to God. She failed. Mary, the new Eve, was tempted by the Spirit to give flesh and birth to God, Jesus the new Adam, the Christ. She said YES! And as Paul teaches the Romans, “For if, by the transgression of [ the one Adam], death came to reign in life through [him], how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of [salvation] come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.” Through the living and dying of Christ then we come to “reign in life” as Christs, New Adams and New Eves. And because of our baptism into the Body of Christ and because we eat his body and drink his blood at the eucharistic altar, we march through the desert of Lent guarded against the wiles of disobedience, protected against the lie that brings us constantly to the brink of damnation, the lie that we can become gods without God.

We have forty days and forty nights to confront head on the One Sin that all sins call “Father”—the single sin of believing that we are our own gods. Every sin we assent to, every sin we give flesh and blood to gives life to the serpent’s temptation: disobey God so that you might know what it is to be God. There is no thornier path, no road so crooked as the one that starts with disobedience and travels through the arrogance of believing that we save ourselves from ourselves, that we are able to lift ourselves to heaven and accomplish reconciliation with God without God. Such a belief, and the daily habits that result from believing so, are the deadly vices that kill us over and over again, that punch us in the heart and throw us back again and again into the serpent’s company. The stripped bare audacity of the Lenten desert is our training ground, our yearly boot camp for exercising the gifts of love and mercy that always bring us, again and again, brings us back to the Father. A successful Lenten trek will bring us to Jerusalem and the Cross bare and ready to walk the passionate way with our Lord, bare and ready to die among the trash of Golgotha, and rise with him on that Last Day.

We are able to put one foot in front of the another all the way to Easter morning because Jesus did it first. Along the way we will be shown the glories of power, the majesties of celebrity and infamy, we will be offered all that the Devil has in his kingdom. We do not need to resist temptation, to fight against the black jewels of the devil’s chain, we need only remember that Jesus met the devil first, always before us, and said, “Get away, Satan!” There are no battles left for us to plan, no wars against temptation for us to fight. The last battle was fought and the war won on the Cross in Jerusalem. All that we need do is follow Christ. One foot in front of the other, walking lightly on the sand in the shadow of his healing presence.

"Quod non assumpsit, non redemit." (Gregory Nazianzen, Letter to Cledonius) H/T: Fr. Dominic Holtz, OP