28 March 2008

Do you wanna be a fish?

Octave of Easter (F): Acts 4.1-12 and John 21.1-14
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

For us, the Lord is far and near, close by and distant, personal and abstract. In fact, there may seem to be at times two gods for us to adore: the god of intimate relationship and the god of infinite distance. Haven’t we heard that God is both “with us” and “above us”? Both immanent (“among us”) and transcendent (“beyond us”)? Sometimes these two gods are called the God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the God of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas. Whatever we might think of this distinction, this difference, we have to admit that daily we experience God as with us and away from us; in varying degrees of intensity, right here, right now AND out there, perhaps waiting, perhaps not; gone away or hanging around close by, disinterested or fiercely loving. Jesus’ encounter with the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, especially the anxiety, the trepidation of the disciples with Jesus’ presence among them, this encounter shows up for us our own sometimes deeply ambivalent fear and trembling with God’s work in our life.

At the very core of our being-here, we desire intimacy with God; our imperfection as creatures yearns for His perfection as our Creator. That yearning, that sometimes near painful desire to be with God throws up for our choosing a radical choice: (very simply put) I either embrace my lack of perfection and run after the perfection God offers through Christ; or in my folly, I make my lack of perfection a god and worship it with my whole being, pushing God further and further away, adding to the distance btw us, divinizing my desire, my lacks, filling up all my God-shaped with misshapened deities. For most of us, we walk the fine, razor-thin line somewhere btw these two forms of surrender and spend our time praying (desperately praying!) for help in choosing.

Look at the disciples, squatting near the fire while Jesus serves them fish and bread. John reports: “. . .none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they realized it was the Lord.” What’s the problem here? Why the anxiety? John has already told us that once Jesus asks—“Children, have you caught anything to eat?”—the disciples recognize him. Having obeyed the Lord’s command to stay together as his family in faith, the disciples are “sighted to see” him; that is, they are properly illuminated to see, gifted to recognize the Lord after his resurrection, but notice that they still need a prompt to understand fully.

The beloved disciple shouts, “It is the Lord.” Simon Peter jumps into the sea and wades ashore. The other disciples follow soon enough. But none will ask him who he is, none will dare to request a confirmation of what they know to be true. Why? It could be fear of offending their Lord with such an obviously doubting question. It could be that they simply want to respect his presence without pestering him with student questions. It could be that they are hoping that they are wrong. Likely, it is b/c they understand—if only in the head—what this appearance of the Lord means for them. Do you think that they are squatting there eating bread and fish and remembering back over the last three years all the promises of their Master? The promise of political and religious persecution? The promise of familial strife? Brotherly conflict? The truly frightening promise that they too—if they follow him on his Way—that they too will die horribly with a prayer to the Father on their lips? Of course, of course. And so they squat there, knowing and remembering and sweating through all those promises of violence and inevitable glory. And we, like them, sit and stand here, btw our choices of radical surrender, and pray for courage, stout hearts: give up to God all that is His and be wildly transformed, or cling to our imperfect creatureliness and worship all the little gods of deficiency?

Here’s what we are to do: go fishing! Wade into the deep! Shout: he is the Lord! Row ashore with our nets bulging and eat and drink with the Lord! He is risen. . .he is dead, buried, risen again, and when he comes for us, he will count us among his wondrous fishes!

Pic credit: Penny Prior

26 March 2008

Hearts slow to believe

Octave of Easter (W): Acts 3.1-10 and Luke 24.13-35
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

After nearly twenty decades of exile in the woodshed for barbaric acts against humanity and a slow rehabilitation on the continent with French and German philosophers, I am happy to report that Belief is once again welcomed among us as an acceptable weapon against the encroaching hordes of nihilism. With those hordes shaking the ground right outside our gates, some in the civilized world line up for defense behind the utopian promises of secular scientism; some behind the ever more suicidal versions of Christless Christianity; some behind the absurd absolutes of religious fundamentalism; and some have even come to understand the wisdom of the West’s Catholic heritage and have, as a result, embraced the power of basic belief as the first best step in the dangerous project of shining a bright beacon into the darkness. Luke’s gospel story of meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus greatly clarifies this last option: if our eyes are to be opened, we must first believe and only then will the need for sight disappear.

As the disciples walk to Emmaus, Jesus joins them. Since “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him,” the disciples confess their deepest doubts about the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday: “…we were hoping that [Jesus] would be the one to redeem Israel…” The disciples tell Jesus about his execution, his burial, and the discovery of his empty tomb by the women. They report: “…some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” Jesus’ reaction to their doubt is telling. He doesn’t accuse them of being blind or stupid or deluded. He says to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” Their inability to understand the events of Easter Sunday is rooted in an unwillingness to believe. They went to the tomb to see, but they did not take with them their eyes of faith.

Jesus patiently teaches them—again!—the heart and soul of the prophetic tradition: God will come to His people in the person of a savior. This is a promise fulfilled in their hearing. But it is not until Jesus blesses, breaks, and gives them the bread at table that their eyes are opened and they see. The instant they recognize him for who he is, “he vanishe[s] from their sight.” They believe, they recognize. They see him. And seeing is no longer necessary. Remember just last week or so that Jesus stood before an angry crowd busy gathering stones to throw at him. He urges the crowd to believe in his good works so that they may come to “realize and understand” that he is the Christ sent by the Father. The evidence he offers is only good as evidence if we first believe. This is basic. Comes first. Primary.

Belief is fashionable again b/c we have exhausted the modernist project of scientific absolutes, and we have discovered along the way that for all its usefulness science is a story we tell about the world. Like most stories, it has characters, plots, settings, action. Unlike most stories, it does an excellent job of explaining we think we see and hear and taste and touch. What it cannot do as a story is tell us about how to live in wonder at creation, how to thrive in love with the very fact of just being-here. Scientism demands that we place our faith in a investigative method. Christless Christianity demands that we place our faith in the bastard children of the hard sciences: sociology, psychology, economics, history. Fundamentalism demands that we place our faith in the infallible genius of the individual’s zeal for absolutes. What does Christ demand? How do those hearts so slow to believe catch fire? As Jesus and the disciples approached Emmaus, Jesus “gave the impression that he was going on farther. But [the disciples] urged him, ‘Stay with us…’ So he went in to stay with them.”

Pic credit: Stefan Blondal

24 March 2008

It's gotta be good!

I ran across this gem today over at the Ignatius Press blog site: Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith by Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ.

It is extraordinarily difficult to find good books on magisterial authority. The standard texts are pretty much all--to one degree or another--apologies for dissent (e.g. R. Gaillardetz, F. Sullivan, et al).

Though I've not read this book, I am sure that Cardinal Dulles would not write nor would Ignatius Press publish a rubbish book on the magisterium.

I also found the four volume set, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers. Just let me say that I only bumped my thick head once on the ceiling jumping for joy to see this available from Amazon.com!

Talk about the potential for a series of summer retreats, or adult Bible studies, or informal priory seminars. . .(Father does his Homer Loves Donuts impression. . .)

Gracias! [Updated]

Checking the Wish List, I am happy to see that my Book Benefactors have been busy helping the Philosophy/Theology library grow! The Copelston set is NOT complete. . .I thought I had all nine volumes but I ended up somehow with 2 copies of the second volume! Oh well. . .

I arrived back at my office very late last night and was greeted by a stack of recent gifts. . .Thank You notes will go out tomorrow.

One or two items arrived w/o shipping invoices, so I don't know who sent them to me. . .the translation software, for example, arrived in a box with no indication whatsoever of where it came from. . .

Special Thanks go to my German angel, Bee, for her diligence in providing this text-hungry Dominican with food for thought. . .her latest gift: a Latin comic book! WooHoo!! Also, a special thanks to my English angel, Rachael, not only for her books but for her contribution to the ASB Pilgrimage as well. What is it with Dominican friars and smart European women. . .(winkwink).

God bless, Fr. Philip, OP

We're back in TEXAS!

Alleluia! He is RISEN!!

I am happy to report that the ASB2008 Pilgrims to The Catholic Oasis of St Rafaela in Athens, GA have all safely returned to Irving, TX.

We had a blast with the Sisters Margarita, Angela, and Marietta, all members of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

During the week with the sisters we built a playground for the Oasis kindergarten children, drained a small but annoying swamp near the school, and tutored the first, second, and third grade students in reading and math.

We also prayed the daily office, celebrated a daily Mass, enjoyed some excellent homemade Mexican food, visited the Catholic Center at UGA, visited the parish--St Joseph's--, participated in a Stations of the Cross in Atlanta, celebrated the Triduum with the folks at the UGA Newman Center and at St. Joseph's, and we managed all of this with the help of our generous benefactors here at the Church of the Incarnation, our pilgrims' home parishes, parents, friends, and even a number of anonymous donors.

I want to plug the sisters' work at the Oasis in Athens, GA. The sisters there serve a large community of recent immigrants (mostly from Mexico). The Oasis program is fundamentally an afterschool tutoring program for kindergarten-third grade students in the community. With the help of more than 100 tutors from UGA, the sisters are able to spend about 2.5 hrs a day during the week assisting these children with improving their math and reading skills. I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed with their hard work and the results they've achieved. One of the most impressive accomplishments of the community is the elimination of gang activity in the area. No easy feat! But once you encounter the determination of these faithful women, you can easily see how evil never stands a chance.

More than anything right now the sisters need cash donations. While we were there, I witnessed the sisters paying the medical bill for one little boy with a bad case of meningitis. Another family was being evicted from their home and the sisters were able to stall the eviction by coming up with the rent money. They are frequently called upon for basic foodstuffs. The people in the community are hard-working, justly proud, deeply faithful, and committed to their families. I can testify the frugality of the sisters' lifestyle (three of them in a trailer). And I am happy to recommend them to you as worthy recipients of your help. So, please send them a donation or contact them about how you might be of help to them:

Catholic Oasis of St Rafaela
1465 Highway 29, N
Lot G-21
Athens, GA 30601

On behalf of the ASB2008 Pilgrims, I want to thank you all for your prayers!

Now: back to the academic grind. . .