25 May 2009

We have only just begun

Memorial for St. Philip Neri: Acts 20.17-27; John 17.1-11
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

We are almost done here. Almost there. Just a little longer and all this will be over. Never to be done again. Waiting for us when we are done here is everything we have left to do somewhere else. There can no question that our work—our study, our teaching, our preaching, our ministry, all we do in Christ’s name—there can be no question that this side of the Kingdom our work continues so long as we breath, so long as rise and answer the spirit by doing what Christ did, by being his working Body in this world. We are almost done here. But we have yet to start his work somewhere else. Tomorrow’s gospel has yet to be preached. Tomorrow’s truth has yet to be taught. What Christ accomplished in one day from the cross, we must accomplish daily in the work we have promised to do. What he completed in one breath, we must bring to completion while we yet breathe. To the Father, Jesus prayed, “I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.” And Paul confesses to the priests of the Church in Ephesus, “I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me […] Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course […] to bear witness to the Gospel of God's grace.” Do you, as the hands and voice of the crucified Christ, risen to the Father, do you, his worker and child, bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace?

Standing in the spirit of his Father with eyes raised to heaven, our Lord prays for his people, commending them body and soul to the care of the loving God Who made them. He prays, “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” With the living Word living among them, our ancestors in the faith kept His Word, doing what they promised to do. Through trial, persecution, murderous plots, torture, and the ever-present threat of death, they held to the living Word and lived His Word in the face of persistent evil and obstinate opposition. They ran their course. And we must run ours. They are done. We are just getting started.

Do you bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace? With all the gifts that you have been given, in the time and place that composes your part in human history, with all the faults, failures, and false starts that sin brings to your work, do you witness to God’s grace? Paul says that he “bears witness.” We read these words to mean “carrying testimony,” or “standing up by speaking out.” But we can hear “to bear witness” as “baring witness,” making our testimony to grace bare, naked, stripped, and exposed. And if you are your witness, that is, if everything that you are and everything that you do bears witness, then you are indeed exposed, stripped naked before the world. To watch you is to watch God’s grace at work in the world. Without pretense or illusion or deceit, you show us Christ.

We are almost done and yet we have hardly begun. We are almost there and yet the end is as far from us as it has ever been. Our task is not to build buildings or win arguments or solve difficult social problems. Our task is to bear witness, to expose the truth, to strip naked the Word. Our task has only just begun.


  1. Happy Birthday, Fr. Powell!

    In my opinion this is among the best of your homilies so far! Beautiful implications about the holiness of the ordinary life and the sacrament of the present moment!

    Yours in Christ,

  2. Innocent, thanks so much! I'm trying out a new style (today and last Sunday) that I like very much. I'm glad you like it too.