17 April 2008

Troubled No More

4th Week of Easter (F): Acts 13.26-33 and John 14.1-6
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass and the Church of the Incarnation

Think for a moment what it might mean for your heart to be troubled. It could be that your heart is racing like a hummingbird or beating irregularly or pausing sometimes for a bit too long or maybe your heart is burning…with too much coffee or a bad egg sandwich. What troubles the heart troubles the whole body, so perhaps your upset heart is causing you a headache or shortening your breath or sending your stomach into backflips. When the body is roused in turmoil, the mind and spirit aren’t far behind the commotion; so, perhaps along with a troubled heart and a malfunctioning body, your mind is jumbled, fogged in or asleep or just plain exhausted. And your spirit too must be a jangle of confusion, a knot of one-way or no-way chat with God. Now, what if we weren’t talking about your heart, your mind, your spirit, your body but rather the Heart, Mind, Spirit, and Body of the Church? If the Heart of the Body the Church is troubled, where do we go?

Jesus says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Apparently, being troubled is a matter of choosing not to be troubled. Just don’t do it. Do something else! Let your hearts and our Heart be glad. But do we as a Church have any clue about what might provoke us into choosing to be troubled? Of course, we do! Lack of priests and religious, declining membership, the scandals, lack of energetic lay participation in the Church’s daily life, the suicide of Catholic universities. . .and on and on. Plenty there for us to be troubled about. And again, Jesus says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled?”

Jesus, seeing the incredulous looks on our faces, quickly adds, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” He might’ve just as well have said, “Look! Who’s in charge here? Your troubled hearts and minds? Or my Heart, my Mind, my Body, my Spirit?” Fine, we get it: a perturbed heart can be settled with a little trust in God and His only Son. We need—and that’s a literal need, by the way—we need to release the reins and trust God to be God. And when the Body the Church trusts God to be God, then what? Where are we going? And do we know how to get there?

Jesus, quite possibly looking for a whip and staring at us like the moneychangers in the temple courtyard, says to us, “I am going to prepare a place for you…I will come back again and take you myself. . .” Good! That whole Trust Business sounds a lot easier knowing this little tid-bit of info. But! our anxious hearts cry out: do we have the wisdom to hear and see the truth of what he is saying to us? Can we call upon any history or experience that will confirm for us the truth of what he is promising? We do. Let’s rehearse: slaves out of Egypt; Red Sea parted and manna from heaven; guidance from the Tablets, Promised Land found; lots of good judges and kings; plenty of holy prophets; and then there’s that whole Virgin Birth/Star in the East/This is my beloved Son thing; not to mention, the forty days, the passion, the execution and the promised resurrection. But still. . .he has to say in his best fatherly voice: “Where I am going you know the way.”

Really? Do we? If we knew the way would our hearts be troubled? Would the Heart, Mind, Spirit, and Body of the Church be so anxious right now, so perturbed? If we trusted God to be God, no. But do we? Trust God, that is; truly trust that what He promised then is as good as done right now? I don’t know about that. Jesus, obviously quite ready to stalk off in disgust, says to us, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Ooohhhhh…OK. We’re not waiting for someone else to show up? For something else to happen, right? You are it. . .“him,” we mean. You are him: the way, truth, life. Jesus, brightening noticeably, looks to the sky and slowly counts the gulls, then just barely above a whisper, says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So, where do we go? No where. We are there. Who are we looking for? No one. He found us. In whom do we trust? The one who is himself the way to God, the truth of his Father, and our life everlasting. Is the Heart of the Body the Church still troubled? Nope. There’s no room for anxiety here. Trust rules this Heart.

HOAX! But not why do it for real?

Yale: Student's Art Project Only 'Creative Fiction'


A Yale student’s bizarre art project in which she claimed to have repeatedly impregnated and induced abortions in herself is a work of "creative fiction," the university said in a statement this afternoon.

The Yale Daily News reported this morning that Aliza Shvarts’s senior project, set to go on display next week, included video of her bleeding in her bathtub, as well as plastic sheeting layered with a mixture of Vaseline and the post-abortion blood.

"Ms. Shvarts is engaged in performance art," a Yale spokeswoman, Helaine Klasky, said. "She stated to three senior Yale University officials today, including two deans, that she did not impregnate herself and that she did not induce any miscarriages. The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body."

Ms. Klasky went on to suggest that Yale would not have permitted a project of the sort described in the student newspaper. "Had these acts been real, they would have violated basic ethical standards and raised serious mental and physical health concerns."

Why? I mean, why would these acts (had they been real) "violated basic ethical standards"? Better yet, why would anyone in Yale's administration think this? Given the basic premises of the pro-abortion argument and the claims that university-types regularly make about academic freedom, why should any of us believe this woman when she says that had these acts been real "they would have violated basic ethical standards"? I see no plausible argument--given the potent rhetorical combo of pro-abort "rights" and academic "freedom"--why this "art" student should be prevented from doing exactly what she (falsely) claimed to have done. My guess is that someone in the development office at Yale pointed out that this sort of thing tends to make donations drop, so maybe we had better sound like we think this is "unethical" (whatever THAT means!).

. . .the rest of the story? From Yale News:

But Shvarts stood by her project, calling the University’s statement [that her project wasn't real] “ultimately inaccurate.”

…Shvarts reiterated Thursday that she repeatedly use a needleless syringe to insert semen into herself. At the end of her menstrual cycle, she took abortifacient herbs to induce bleeding, she said. She said she does not know whether or not she was ever pregnant.

“No one can say with 100-percent certainty that anything in the piece did or did not happen,” Shvarts said, “because the nature of the piece is that it did not consist of certainties.”

This afternoon, Shvarts showed the News footage from tapes she plans to play at the exhibit. The tapes depict Shvarts — sometimes naked, sometimes clothed — alone in a shower stall bleeding into a cup…

Yale’s statement comes after a day of widespread outrage all across the country following an article in today’s edition of the News [ah ha! thought so!] in which Shvarts described her supposed exhibition, which she said would include the video recordings well as a preserved collection of the blood from the process, which she said she is storing in a freezer [wow, this one's a class act, uh?]. . .

Recorded videos of her experiencing her miscarriages would be projected onto the four sides of the cube, Shvarts said, and similar videos would also be displayed on the walls of the room.

Many students on campus expressed outrage when told of the concept, saying it trivialized abortion [what?! so the problem with this "art" is that it presented abortion--an act these people believe is morally OK--look trivial?] and transgressed any reasonable moral boundary [and exactly what moral boundary do people who think murdering a child is OK not want to cross?]. On Thursday, the general public seemed to agree; by early evening Thursday, news outlets from The Washington Post to London’s Daily Telegraph had reported the story, and the blogosphere was ablaze in horrified debate over the supposed exhibition.

The project — at least the way Shvarts presented it in her press release and her interview — was immediately condemned Thursday by national groups on both sides of the abortion debate. . .

The abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America also condemned the exhibition in a written statement e-mailed to the News on Thursday.

“This ‘project’ is offensive and insensitive to the women who have suffered the heartbreak of miscarriage,” said Ted Miller, a spokesman for the organization [insensitive to women who have had miscarriages. . .but, what, instructive to the aborted children?]

16 April 2008

Books and books and books....

The Phil & Theo Wish List has been updated. . .if you're interested in the whole interreligious, religious pluralism/diversity, scandal of particularity debate. . .I have several books listed that serve as fundamental texts for the discussion. I've also included some of the basic texts for the Radical Orthodoxy movement. . .

AND it is still National Poetry Month!

Light in the darkness...

4th Week of Easter (W): Acts 12.24-13.5 and John 12.44-50
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

This is how Jesus ends his public ministry: “[He] cried out and said. . .what I say, I say as the Father told me.” We might think that this is somewhat anti-climatic given some of the more dramatic preaching he’s done not to mention the occasional flash of impatient tempter and the miracles. Why not go out with a BANG!? Leave them stunned and wanting more. Peak the crowd’s curiosity, give them something to remember and gossip about. Well, as we have seen before, especially with his odd tendency to tell people not to keep silent about their miraculous healings, Jesus is not particularly inclined to the dramatic, the flashy, the Media Event. He definitely needs a P.R. makeover! Jesus trusts the Word of his words to do the work. And so, it is absolutely necessary that those who follow him in the crowds understand that when he speaks, he speaks the Word of God as the Word of God. In other words, Jesus the Christ himself is the Event. . .and as an Event, it is Jesus the Christ who must be remembered. . .and preached and celebrated and given over and over again in gratitude and admiration.

How perfectly fitting then that paired with this concluding lesson on the nature of the Word is that scene in Acts where Barnabus and Saul are selected and ordained as apostles. Just as the Father sends his Son, Jesus the Christ, so the Son sends his disciples into the world as apostles, and those apostles, obedient to the Word of the Spirit, pick out two among them to become “Ones Sent Out”—apostles. The message here is crystal clear: the end of Jesus’ public ministry is the beginning of the Church’s apostolic push into the world. The fire of the campaign—the energy, the fuel for the “work to which [God has] called them”—is not drawn from public spectacle, staged theatrics. The apostles are driven out to preach and teach the Word by the Word, by the divine authority that commanded Jesus himself to “say and speak” what needed to be said and spoken.

Notice the lead up to Jesus’ concluding revelation. “Whoever believes in me…whoever sees meI came into the world…everyone who believes in me…anyone who hears my words…whoever rejects me…does not accept my words…the words I spoke…I did not speak on my own…the Father who sent me commanded me…I know…what I say, I say as the Father told me.” Can we safely deny that Jesus the Christ himself is The Apostolic Message? Not and do so with any integrity. Had Jesus continued in his public ministry, as the principle preacher of the Word Made Flesh, we might come to conclude that there is something or someone else more important than the Messiah—our focus drawn beyond the Word Made Flesh to some distant subject, some faraway time and place for our salvation.

John the Baptist trumpets the coming of the Christ. The Christ arrives in the person of Jesus the Nazarene. Jesus the Nazarene preaches and teaches the Good News of the Father’s mercy contained and delivered in the Word Made Flesh. There is nothing “beyond” this message. No where for us to go but to him, nothing to do but do as he did. And so, we are thrown out there, “sent forth by the Holy Spirit” to proclaim with the words of our mouth and the work of our hands that Jesus is the Christ! The wait is over: there is no other. Those who reject him, reject the Father. Those who accept him, hear the merciful Word; they come to him for life eternal and receive his healing gift. Jesus says, “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness. . .So, what I say, I say as the Father told me.”

Crdl Arinze's Visit

I've had several emails asking about Cardinal Arinze's visit. . .

Of course, it was wonderful! As I expected he is a very humble man, very easy-going but focused on the mission of the gospels.

I was a bit nervous about being his M.C., but he made it clear from the beginning that he would do "what we do" and not make any unusual demands. I was particularly worried about his miter. There's quite a bit of ceremony around a miter at Mass. . .he said to me, "I put it on when I like. I take it off when I like. You do not worry about it at all." Fine with me!

During lunch he told the theology faculty several funny stories. My favorite: Once in a Roman taxi way back in the mid-60's, the newly ordained Bishop Arinze was confronted by the cabbie with this question: "Bishop, the priests speak Latin to say Mass. But they ask for money in Italian! If Latin is so important to the Church, why don't they ask for money in Latin?"

His talk was great. . .it is available, I believe, as a video from Irving Community Television.

He came to the priory on Tuesday morning and celebrated a private Mass with the novices. They got a pic with him. . .I'll see if I can post it.

Oh! And, no, I didn't ask him for a job. Though I love liturgical theology and would probably sell a kidney to work in the Vatican, I have my eye set on becoming the Papal Household Preacher. My apologies to the current PHP, but that job should really go to a Dominican!

14 April 2008

Just as, just so

4th Week of Easter (M): Acts 11.1-8 and John 10.11-18
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

One of the most striking features of John’s gospel is Jesus’ dogged repetition of what I have come to think of as his “Just As” teaching. In one form or another, Jesus repeats for us the phrase “just as the Father loves me and I love the Father, I love mine and mine love me.” We can replace “love” here with “know” or “sent”—“just as the Father knows me/sent me”—and we still get a clear picture of the correlation between our relation with Christ and Christ’s relation with the Father. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the father knows me and I know the Father…” Just as, just so: how does the Father know his Son? And given that answer: how does the Son know us?

Luke reports in Acts that Peter is confronted by “circumcised believers” who chastise him for eating with the Gentiles. Peter defends himself by telling them how he was given a vision of the “four-legged animals of the earth” and heard a voice telling him that these animals were now clean to eat. He reports that over his objections to this revelation, a voice said to him: “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” This vision, though obviously about the kosher laws, has a much broader application. Peter is called to a household recently visited by an angel. The angel promised that if the members of the household summon Peter, the words he speaks to them will save them all. The Holy Spirit came upon Peter and he has another revelation: God’s flock has expanded beyond the Jews. Those with Peter conclude: “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.” Peter must have heard ringing in his head the words from the previous vision: “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”

We are lead back to the original questions: how does the Father know his Son? And given that answer: how does the Son know us? We know that the Father knows His Son because the Son himself tells us that he, the Son, and the Father are one. When we see the Son, we see the Father. Two persons: Father and Son; one nature: divine. The Son knows us through the Holy Spirit, who is one with the Father and the Son. Also, a person; also divine. But how do we know this trinity of divine persons, this One God? We look at our Shepherd, the Christ. Just as the Son knows his Father because they are one, so we know the Christ and the Father “in the Spirit.” We are not divine, of course, but we are made clean, made holy by the Christ and his sacrifice for us. The fifth Easter preface says it plainly: Christ is the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice. Our Shepherd became a sheep and died for us so that we might know the Father just as he knows the Father.

Peter heard the voice from heaven says, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane” and thus the Way is open for all of the Father’s two-legged creatures—Jew and Gentile—to come to Him perfectly clean. And we must hear this clearly so as to avoid appointing blame where it does not belong: Jesus says, “…I will lay down my life for the sheep…This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.” When our Lord took up his life again on Easter morning, he took us with him; and now, we are His sheep saved from the slaughter, fiercely loved by Love Himself; just as He loves His Son, just so are we too loved.

13 April 2008

Visit by Cardinal Arinze!

In case those in the area haven't heard: Francis Cardinal Arinze will be in Irving, TX at the University of Dallas all day tomorrow and part of Tuesday.

His Eminence will celebrate the noon Mass at the Church of the Incarnation on the U.D. campus.

He will also speak at the Irving Arts Center at 7.30pm. His talk: "Evangelization and Interreligious Dialogue."

This will be a great day for me personally! I will assist His Eminence at the noon Mass as his Master of Ceremonies (he has requested a very simple Novus Ordo Mass, btw), and I will have the great privilege of having lunch with him and several other members of the theology department!

Details may be found on the University of Dallas website.

The Gate: "Jesus is Lord!"

4th Sunday of Easter: Acts 2.14, 36-41; 1 Peter 2.20-25; John 10.1-10
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the

[Hahaha...someone thought it would be funny to rearrange the pages of my homily on the ambo while I wasn't looking...if you listen to the podcast you will hear me fumbling to get things right...if I find out who...]

On the ideal ranch in an ideal world, the ideal shepherd leads his ideal sheep and ideally they follow him. For some, this is the ideal model for the ideal Church. Shepherds lead. Sheep follow. On the real ranch, however, real shepherds do not so much lead their real sheep as they stand behind them and drive them forward using fierce little dogs and a real big stick. Sheep, being enormously stupid and easily controlled, respond well to the shepherd’s staff and even better to the sharp teeth and quick barks of the fierce little dog. For some, this is the ideal model for the ideal Church: stupid sheep driven forward by a shepherd, his staff, and a fiercely obedient little dog. Fortunately, for us, our Lord has something else in mind when he uses the Shepherd/Sheep Gate metaphor to teach the Pharisees about who and what he is for them. We do not follow Jesus b/c we are stupid and easily controlled. Nor do we follow Jesus because he has the use of a heavy staff and a fierce little dog. We follow because we hear and recognize his voice as he calls us by name to join his flock. We also hear the “voice of strangers” calling us away from the flock, but we do not follow them because we not recognize the voices of these robbers and thieves. How do you know that it is the voice of the Shepherd you are hearing, inviting you to enter through the sheep gate?

Peter and the Eleven are preaching Christ in Jerusalem. Without apology, without any hesitation or worry, without any fear of offending or alienating anyone, the Eleven stand with Peter as he proclaims, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God had made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom your crucified.” Simple, straightforward, hard-to-hear truth. Jesus is the Lord and the Christ by the grace of God, and you, the Jewish leaders, executed him on a Roman cross. That uncomplicated, unadorned declaration of the truth hits them hard, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart…” Cut to the heart! Peter’s words carry the Word to the center of their very being, that place where the Holy Spirit abides, and his words ring them like a bell. And while they are still ringing with the Word, they obediently ask, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter tells them what they are to do; they do it, and “about three thousand persons were added that day.”

The apostle Peter, in his letter to the exiled elect of the Church, writes, “[Christ] himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” The Jewish leaders heard Peter speak the Word in his words and thousand joined the Way. These thousand, now, later, spread across the known world, continue to hear the Word, the truth of their salvation in the one time sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and hearing again the truth spoken and reading the Word written, they abide with Christ the Shepherd. How do these exiled followers of the Way abide with Christ despite their suffering? Peter writes, “…to this [suffering] you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” Hear his voice. Recognize his Word. Follow the Shepherd and Guardian of your soul. And by his wounds you are healed.

But how do you know that it is the voice of the Shepherd you are hearing, inviting you to enter through the sheep gate? Jesus says to the Pharisees, “…I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved…A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” You know you are hearing the voice of the Shepherd when you hear one message, the message Peter declared to the Jewish leaders: Jesus is the Lord and the Christ, the gift of sacrifice for us, the one we crucified with our sins, the one, the Only One, who suffered and died for us. Peter supplemented this simple, straightforward truth “with many other arguments,” but the force, the power, the fire of his first exhortation—Jesus is the Christ!—cut them to the heart.

The single most dangerous predator for sheep is the wolf. The wolf skulks around the edges of the flock, looking for an opportunity to strike, waiting patiently for just one lost sheep to kill and carry off for supper. The shepherd and his co-workers recognize a wolf immediately and work hard to drive it away. For the rest of us, Christ’s all-too-human sheep, we sometimes fail to recognize the stink of the wolf, fail to see his shabby fur and hungry eyes, thinking instead perhaps that this oddly colored sheep, this strangely hungry lamb, is one of us. If we listen, we might hear the sheep-shaped wolf whisper to us that the Shepherd is really just a man, just like one of us, frail and fallible, subject to temptation and sin. We might hear the sheep-shaped wolf say that our home with the Shepherd is really somewhere over there, over the hill, next to the more attractive, greener pasture. We might hear the wolf tells us that our flock is dull, hind-bound, exclusive, too structured and too authoritarian, too rigidly dogmatic for free-thinking sheep like ourselves. Or that we are indeed just sheep, stupid followers, easily controlled. The wolf will tempt us to see the Shepherd and his flock as unable and unwilling to meet our need for liberty and personal development. And as we listen, the wolf will lick his hungry lips and wait.

All extended metaphors aside. . .we all know that there are many voices out there competing for our attention, jockeying for our money, our time, our talent. We know that there are those inside and outside the Church who would love to see us boldly “stand up to” the teachings of the Body of Christ, challenge the truth of the faith, and walk away believing that we do not belong among the elect. But as the Body of Christ, his pilgrim people and servant-sheep, we cannot ask for a more explicit, more direct revelation than the one we have in this morning’s/evening’s gospel: “Jesus said again…I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved…” As vowed and baptized priests and prophets of the Gospel, we hear and recognize the truth of Peter’s words: Jesus is the Christ! There is no other way, no other Shepherd, no other gate.

As intelligent men and women, faithful Christians we give a hearing to the philosophers, the scientists, the novelists and poets; we listen to our political and financial leaders; we respect Caesar in his empire and strive to obey his laws. But our hearts are cut by the Word, not by argument or laboratory experimentation; not by a good novel or poem; not by a stump speech or Wall Street report; nor do we allow Caesar to sit on the throne of our souls and rule us out of his need for authority and power. We belong to Christ—body, soul, heart and mind. We will not follow a stranger. We will not recognize as Christ any other Shepherd, any other Gate. So, how do you know that it is the voice of the Shepherd you are hearing, inviting you to enter the through sheep gate? Is the voice saying to you, “Jesus is the Christ”? Yes? Then listen. If the voice is saying anything else, anything but: start bleating for your life, and wait for the Shepherd and his faithful flock to come find you! Listen and remember: “I am the gate…A thief comes to steal and destroy and slaughter; I come so that [you] might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Summer Seminars at U.D.!

Good News!

I will be teaching two senior/grad seminars here at U.D. during the 1st Summer Term:

ENG 4360 American Literature: 19 & 20th Century (covers classical novels and poems from the mid to late 19th century up through the mid-20th century: Hawthorne, Twain, Whitman, Dickinson, James, Faulkner, etc.)


THE 5317 Recent & Contemporary Theology: theology of religions (topics: philosophical issues raised by religious pluralism, theologies of salvation in light of religious diversity, nature of the Church in interreligious dialogue, etc: John Hick, Jacques Dupuis, Pope Benedict XVI, and many others).

Generally, these seminars need at least six students registered before they can be offered. I will post reading lists when I have selected and ordered the assigned texts.

N.B. Updated the Phil/Theo Wish List to include two new books. One of contemporary Thomism and another on the theology of our Holy Father (both written by the brilliant and orthodox theologian, Tracey Rowland).