07 March 2008

Died and gone to heaven. . .

DAMN! Goldberg beat me to it! I lived
this book in grad school in the 1990's.

Topics for Future Occasional Pieces

Honestly, the first thing I would do is drag my habit sleeve across the ink bottle
and spoil the paper!

My gratitude goes out to all of you who responded so generously and provided me with a bushel-basket full of ideas for future occasional pieces of writing. Some of the topics suggested are beyond my competence ("history and use of the Dominican Rite"); others are treated better by more competent writers elsewhere ("location of tabernacle") and still others didn't quite strike the right chord with me ("Dominican bio-ethics"). So, given all of this, here are the three topics I've chosen to write about in the next few months:

1). Contemporary Religious Life (a narrowly construed piece on generational issues in the orders)

2). Theory and Practice of Prayer, or Is God Really Listening? (I've taught this as a senior theology seminar)

3). Some Random, Deconstructive, Postliberal, Hermeneutical Reflections on Postmetaphysical Theologies, or "A Dingo Ate My Nicaean Creed!" 'Nuff said. . .

Those interested in the Dominican Rite of the Mass, click here.

Those interested in Dominican bioethics, click here for a great vid by Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP.

PODCAST! The podcast for the first "The Mass Line by Line" workshop has been edited and is ready to post. I am waiting for the second installment to be edited. My thanks go out to Rudy B. (A.K.A. "El Burro") and Alex P. for their great work in helping this aging Poet/Preacher with the techie stuff).

AND! Last but not least and because I have fallen short of the full glory of the Father and wallow in sin, I note (one again) that the Wish List has been updated. . .

No true prophet...

4th Week of Lent (F): Wisdom 2.1, 12-22 and John 7.1-2, 10, 25-30
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert
the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

Jesus travels to Jerusalem, moving slowly toward the center of his world as a faithful Jew. As those who travel with him, we stand behind him and peer over his shoulder at the steadily rising tide of opposition and violence against his Good Word. His approaching presence exerts a holy pressure against the Wicked of the world, pushing them back against one another, crowding them into one another, condensing them into smaller and smaller but stronger and stronger enclaves of surprisingly creative rebellion. From behind his shoulder, what do you see as Jerusalem comes into focus over the hill? What waits there, who waits there to cheer or jeer our Lord and his motley band of preachers? The Book of Wisdom gives us a prophetic picture, a picture of what waits and a prophecy for those who are waiting. But let’s ask this question: are you tempted to place yourself among the wicked, or do you fancy yourself as the “just one”?

The second chapter of the Book of Wisdom opens with this cheery scene: “The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright: ‘Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us…’” Our book on the wisdom of the Lord prominently features the foolishness of the wicked. What are they worried about? The foolish and the wicked are feeling increasingly anxious about a holy man among them who stands as a living rebuke to their folly. The foolish wisely call him “just,” but because of this he is judged to be “obnoxious.” We have to wonder what he is doing to be so obnoxious! According to the wicked, he reproaches them and charges them with violations of the law; he claims to know the Lord and calls himself a child of God; his very presence is felt as a rebuke, censure; the wicked say of him, “…merely to see him is a hardship for us!” And their carefully considered response to this horrible man is predictable: they will test his claims to holiness with “revilement and torture;” they will give him a shameful death to test his claim that God will help him: “For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him…”

We know the wicked aren’t thinking clearly here…St. Thomas says (in more philosophical terms than these): sin makes you stupid. Scripture says, “…they erred; for their wickedness blinded them…” Rightly, the author of Wisdom comes down on the side of the righteous man. But since we are still in our Lenten wilderness, our temptations are especially fresh and vivid. Are you then tempted to place yourself among the wicked, or do you fancy yourself the righteous yet persecuted child of God? If you place yourself among the wicked, you are admitting your foolishness and in so doing you have very likely seen the light. If you fancy yourself the Just Yet Persecuted One, you will likely find yourself wallowing in folly by Easter. Remember: for the devil, temptations are just convenient means to a much bigger end. If he can tempt you to anoint yourself a prophet contra ecclesia or tempt you to die a martyr’s death for nothing more than your vanity, then he has proven the wicked right—more often than not underneath the most highly polished plate of righteousness is a self-righteous heart just waiting, just hoping to be martyred for its favorite cause.

You may object here by pointing out that I’ve set up a false dichotomy with no good result for the earnest seeker and no way out. I’ve pointed out the obvious temptations of both the wicked and the righteous. Here’s the way out; Jesus says to the residents of Jerusalem, “You know me…I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.” No true prophet, priest, or king is self-anointed. No true martyr or saint runs after death for the sake of ego. You are sent out, or you go out on your own. The difference rests in the hand of God.

04 March 2008

Suffer Well

4th Week of Lent (T): Eze 47.1-9, 12; John 5.1-16
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Forgive this old English teacher his need for a moment of grammatical clarity. I promise, it serves our prayerful purpose this morning! Jesus asks the man who has been sick for 38 years, “Do you want to be well?” The man answers Jesus in a way that leads us to conclude that the man understands Jesus to be asking, “Do you want to be healed?” He tells Jesus that he can’t reach the pool “when the water is stirred up” because he has no one to help him. Jesus says, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” In other words, Jesus orders him to be well. How are we to understand this healing? What does it mean for us “to be well”? We all know the basic distinction btw Good and Well. “Good” is an adjective, nouns are good. “Well” is an adverb, verbs are done well. Fried chicken, pecan pie, afternoon naps are all good. However, we read well, run well, write well. But what does it mean “to be well,” that is, what does it mean for us to exist well?

We can start a good answer here by looking at why the now-healed man and our Lord think he is ill. Think back to the Man Born Blind. Why does he believe that he is blind? What do others think about the Blind Man and the Man sick for 38 years? They are blind and sick because of sin—an opinion our Lord Jesus shares. Now, we find this difficult to believe. Of course, sin can make us “soul-sick,” but physically ill, physically disabled? That’s stretching a useful analogy between healing the soul and healing the body, don’t you think? I don’t think so. As persons, whole creatures, we are body and soul together. Not a soul poured into a body, or a Ghost Haunting a Machine of Flesh and Blood. As the incarnated Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus understands the intimate relationship between flesh and soul, he says to the healed man later on in the temple: “Look, you are well; do not sin any more…” Think of this admonishment this way, “Look, you are absolved of your sin, you are well. Do not sin any more…”

I asked earlier: what does it mean “to be well”? What does it mean for us “to exist well”? To be and to exist are infinitive verbs: we exist, we be. And to be well is to exist always in the will of the Father for us. I don’t mean to suggest here that disease is somehow a punishment for sin. God does not give us cancer as a punishment for sin. He doesn’t cause us to fall and break a hip or crack our heads open because we disobey Him. The reckless world we live in, this mortal realm of dangerous obstacles and killing sicknesses exists as a consequence of just One Sin, the original sin. And because we live in this physical world as persons, we get sick, we have accidents, we harm one another. To be well (verb + adverb) is to live as creatures in the will of the Creator for us.

We all know about germs and viruses and cancers and other mean-spirited dis-eases that strike us down. Even the most righteous among us get sick! So, “to be well,” must mean more than just “living as persons without disease or injuries.” Being well is about how you will come to understand your dis-ease, your personal uneasiness while sick or injured. And how you choose to understand and live with your disease is called “suffering.” We suffer the infection, the cancer, the emotional imbalance. We suffer, we “allow” that the sickness is with us and we choose how to react to this fact in the world. This is why Jesus asks the sick man, “Do you want to be well?” Do you will to be in right relationship with God? Though the sick man never says outright, “Yes, I want to be well,” his answer to Jesus is an act of contrition, therefore our Lord orders him to wellness; that is, Jesus places him back into the good order of righteousness.

“Do you want to be well” means (in part) “How do you want to suffer your sickness?” If you suffer alone, in self-pity, or with some sense that your sickness is deserved, then you will suffer—“live with”—your malady as a just punishment. The Good News, however, is that we do not need to suffer our maladies as punishments! We are free to give our sickness to Christ, the one who died that we might live. And we are free to be well as we suffer, free to live as men and women—loved persons—to live as creatures already perfectly healed, if not wholly cured. Do you want to be well? Good! Be well.

03 March 2008


Fetal Life and Abortion


This is the heart's work of Fr. Matt Robinson, OP of St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX. Fr. Matt is a biologist by training and a Thomist by the grace of God. Fr. Matt goes beyond the rhetoric, beyond the politics, and considers the truly fundamental philosophical problems with abortion. Check out his site, link to it, comment on it, and ask him your questions!

02 March 2008

Awake, O Sleeper!

4th Sunday of Lent(A): I Sam 16.1-13; Eph 5.8-14; John 9.1-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

“You were once darkness…,” Paul says, once you were of the dark, its son or daughter, once asleep in the dark, in secret, invisible, yourself blind to the light and stumbling, running a curling path along the cliff’s edge, just teetering on the precipice above the yawning void. It is thrilling, isn’t it? Dangerous, yes; a threat to life and limb, of course; but also dizzying, heady, eerily intoxicating—an eternity falling into darkness, touching absolutely nothing; seeing, hearing, feeling absolutely nothing. . .forever. Darkness holds out the promise of annihilation, the beginningless and endless nullity of all things; the dark we know here/now is just a taste, a mere sip from the cup of obliteration we flirt with in our Nights, in our days without the Light. Paul tells the Ephesians, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord!” And so, we must live as children of the light: “Awake, O Sleeper! and arise from the dead…!”

It is difficult for me to read the gospel this morning/evening without thinking about God’s Poet, Dante. We just finished the Paradiso in my freshman class, and as soon as I saw the gospel selection I thought of Dante with Beatrice in heaven: “The glory of the One who moves all things/permeates the universe and glows/in one part more and in another less./I was within the heaven that receives/more of His light; and I saw things that he/who from that height descends, forgets or can/not speak;…/almost/all of that hemisphere was white while ours/was dark when I saw Beatrice turn round/and left, that she might see the sun; no eagle/has ever stared so steadily at it…/The eyes of Beatrice were all intent/on the eternal circles; from the sun,/I turned aside; I set my eyes on her./In watching her, within me I was changed…/Passing beyond the human cannot be/worded…/Whether I only was the part of me/that You created last, You governing/the heavens know: it was Your light that raised me” (I.1-7, 44-48, 64-67, 73-75). Dante confirms for us three truths: 1) that God’s glory permeates, penetrates all things, heaven and earth; 2) that to look directly at His glory, we must be filled with His glory; and 3) that if we ourselves are not entirely prepared to look directly at His face, it is possible to experience His glory in another.

Take the man born blind. Having never seen in the light, the man is incapable of knowing anything but what he finds in the dark. What he knows in his darkness is scorn, abuse, neglect; maybe, occasionally, pity and the begrudging act of kindness. What he knows is sin, being set out, set apart and away, cast aside like garbage. He begs to live, hoping that those who hate him for his sin do not hate their chances of salvation more and by hating him more will give him something, anything to eat.

Jesus passes by and sees him. Others have seen him as well: neighbors, passersby. But Jesus sees him exactly as he is and not as his sin configures him for public display. Jesus sees a shining soul bound in pitch-black chains, a man born blind and in desperate need of sight. Taking dirt and spit, Jesus makes a paste and smears it on the beggar’s darkened eyes. And then sends him to wash in the Pool of Siloam—“the pool of one who has been sent.” The beggar comes back able to see, blind no more. How was he healed? Magic dirt? Magic spit? Holy water in the pool? None of these. Jesus says, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam…So [the man born blind] went and washed…” He is healed by the grace of obedience; he listens and does as he is commanded to do, thus making his work righteous and fruitful! Our poet/pilgrim, Dante, in the company of Beatrice, writes as he grows toward God’s glory in heaven: “Passing beyond the human cannot be/worded…” Our healed beggar begs to differ and says, “Lord, I do believe.”

We must be sure to notice that the Man Born Blind obeys Jesus before he is healed. After the Pharisees question him and toss him aside—yet again!—for his alleged audacity in teaching them, Jesus questions him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man replies, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Here’s what we need to pay attention to: this beggar is not asking Jesus for proof that the Son of Man exists or for proof that the Son of Man has come…this beggar is asking Jesus to name the Son of Man so that he might believe on that Name! Who is this Son of Man? Jesus says, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” These are the same words with which Jesus revealed himself to the Samaritan woman at the well. Her own exclamation of belief—“Lord, give me this water!—revealed a deeply seeded faith in the Messiah; for her, a Messiah not yet given a name. For both the Samaritan Woman and the Man Born Blind, Jesus, with his personal presence to them, reveals the fulfillment of their faith, the culmination of their trust in the word of the prophets that our Lord would come among us and heal every wound.

The Woman fetched water before Jesus revealed himself to her. The Man went to the pool to wash before Jesus revealed himself to him. And because these two exercised the grace of obedience—the gift we are all given to listen and obey—both are healed, both receive the divine light so that they might see the Messiah standing before them. Their darkness is lifted and the glory of God shines through. Paul writes, “…everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light…Therefore…Awake, O sleeper…and Christ will give you light.” First, we believe, and then we shine.

Lent is not a season for us to duck and weave around temptation. Lent is about putting one foot in front of the other, walking across the scorching dunes of withdrawal and unfulfilled desire. That which tempts you coils up and out, coming to a blistering head, living as a cyst on the skin, readily seen. Exposed to the Lenten sun, all the darkness in you worms its way out and proudly preaches its gospel of occult lies. You will know then the name of the Darkness that keeps you bound. If you spend Lent trying to avoid your temptations, racing around them, running from them, you will only succeed in helping them to build muscle, bigger and better muscles with which to conquer you unawares. The Woman at the Well and the Man Born Blind looked directly into the glory of God, straight through their own temptations, right at the source of their salvation—Jesus himself—and they saw in the light a man named The Christ. They were healed.

“Awake, O sleeper. and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Just two more weeks of this, just two more weeks of our desert trek, and we will with Christ rise from the dead. In the meantime, the time between now and then, find the names of your temptations, expose them to the light, hold them up to the glory of God, and see them for what they truly are: enticements, bribes to live without the Father now so that you might live with the Darkness forever. Open your eyes to see, let the light in and “take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.” You are light in the Lord, therefore, live as children of the light!