10 July 2010

Love your neighbor: Just do it!

I need some feedback on this homily.  I preached at the vigil Mass this evening and something didn't seem quite right.  Preachers are generally bad judges of their own preaching. . .Help!

15th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas


Moses tells his people that they must return to the Lord their God with all heart and all their soul. To do this all they need do is keep His commandments and statutes. What could be easier? The Lord's commandments are not mysterious or remote; they are not hidden nor are they difficult to follow. Every commandment is written in the book of the law. Every commandment directs God's people to behave a certain way. His laws are not up in the sky or across the sea. No one has to climb to the clouds or swim the oceans to retrieve them. The will of the Father is very near to them; in fact, what He wants for them all is already in their mouths and in their hearts. All they have to do is do what the Father has asked them to do. What's so difficult about that? Why is simply doing what God wants us to do so hard? If we could ask the priest and the Levite why they refused to help the traveler who was robbed and left for dead in a ditch, what would they say? I was in a hurry. Things to do. I'm not a doctor. What could I do? He may have been unclean. I didn't want to contaminate myself. Whatever their reasons, however sensible those reasons may be, the priest and the Levite tossed their Father's law up into the clouds. Out of reach. They threw His will across the sea. Why? A remote and mysterious law is easily ignored, more easily thought of as optional. Perhaps the question we need to ask is not why do we find God's will so difficult to follow but rather how do we arrange our lives so that His will seems impossible to follow?

If Moses is correct and God's commandments are already in our mouths and on our hearts, then doing God's will should come naturally to us. Not only should we not have to think about the right thing to do, we should do it as a matter of course. No deliberation. No agonizing over options. No weighing consequences. Just do the right thing. Just do it. But how many of us experience moral choices in this way? How many of us find ourselves in a situation where we are called upon to act with compassion yet we hesitate or even fail to act because we feel the need to think it through. We believe that the situation needs analysis; we need time to contemplate all the options and ponder the likely effects of our actions. If it sounds like I am disparaging rational deliberation on moral questions, let me dispel this worry: thinking through our actions and their consequences is what rational creatures do. However, when we use intellectual problems or legalistic dithering in order to avoid compassionate action because such action is inconvenient or expensive, we effectively refuse to love as God Himself loves us. 

We have an example of this in the scholar of the law who confronts Jesus with a sensible question: what's it gonna take for me to get into heaven? Since this guy is a lawyer, Jesus ask his own sensible question: what's written in the law? The lawyer rattles off the relevant verses about loving God, yourself, and your neighbor. Jesus says, good, do that and you will live. Just do it. But the lawyer wants to clarify a point of interpretation. He wants to wrangle a bit over the definition of terms and see if he could wiggle around this painfully straightforward command. Luke writes, “. . .because [the scholar] wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" What sort of question is this? Luke says that he asks the question in order to justify himself. What exactly is he after? Remember that the Mosaic Law was filled with strict definitions, clear cut lines and limits on who, what, when, and how the Law was to be applied. His question may have been asked in order to avoid responsibility for loving his neighbor but it is also asked as a way of trying to get at the limits of his responsibility. Surely Jesus didn't mean to say that everyone is my neighbor! Surely lepers and prostitutes and money-lenders and Samaritans aren't my neighbors! Unfortunately, for the lawyer, that's exactly what Jesus means. The case Jesus lays out for the inquisitive lawyer bears this out.

The story of the Good Samaritan is a familiar one, so we don't need to go into detail here. But let's look at the sequence of events to see what Jesus is teaching our lawyer friend. Notice a few details. Jesus never reveals the race, religion, ethnicity, or social class of the robbers' victim. These details would influence the lawyer's answer because each would define the term “neighbor” in a conventional way for the lawyer. Jesus portrays the Good Samaritan as acting compassionately without considering anything but the humanity of the victim. Only after telling the story all the way through, detailing good deeds of the Samaritan, does Jesus ask: who was neighbor to the victim of the robbers? He didn't ask, which of three passers-by treated the victim like a neighbor? He asks, which of the three was himself a neighbor to the victim? Do you see the difference? Defining “neighbor” is not about trying to figure out who out there gets my compassion. When I act compassionately I am a neighbor to whoever it is that receives my compassion. Jesus is telling the lawyer that he is to stop thinking about who fits the legal definition of “neighbor” and instead start being a neighbor to anyone who needs help. In other words, “being a loving neighbor and acting like one” is a condition each of us carries in our heart and mind—an internal state—and not a classification we impose on others—an external state. 

We know how the story ends. The lawyer, finally hearing Jesus' teaching, says that the Samaritan was the good neighbor because he was the only one of the three who treated the victim with mercy. Jesus responds, “Go and do likewise.” Treat others with mercy, love others like the compassionate neighbor that you are, and you will have eternal life. Go and do likewise. Don't merely treat others. Don't simply show mercy. But treat with mercy. Act with compassion. Acting, doing is not enough. Compassion, feeling is not enough. It takes both. 

Now, back to our original question: how do we arrange our lives so that God's commandment to love seems so impossible to follow? Do we love as God loves us, or do we spend time and energy trying to figure out who deserves our love? Do we act compassionately, or do we hesitate and ask questions about the nature of mercy and who truly merits our forgiveness? Do we go and do what the Good Samaritan did, or do we find perfectly plausible, even sensible reasons to cross to the opposite side of the road and disobey our Father's will? Knowing how we avoid loving God and our neighbor will take us a long way toward knowing why we will not to do what the Father has commanded us to do. Moses tell his people that they already have the law in their mouths and in their hearts. All they need do is carry out the Father's command to love. Lifting up the compassionate deeds of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” 

You know what it is to love because God loved you first. Go and do likewise. Just do it.

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Prof fired for teaching the Catholic faith in a class on Catholicism.  NB. the money quote from the complaining student's email.  He/she has absolutely no idea what the natural law is. . .yet his/her complaint is sufficient to get this prof fired.

Tom Peters, the American Papist, has issued a call to arms to hold U.I. responsible for firing this Catholic prof. . .he provides the relevant ammo and delivery system.

10 Facts All Catholics Should Know. . .these are paragraph-sized explanations of a few controversial facts about Catholicism.  Don't expect in-depth analysis, but these could lead you to explore the issues more.

Do the states have the power to nullify federal law?

55% of likely voters say B.O. is a socialist.  Duh.  Only 54% believe the sun is hot and that rain is wet.

Retired Episcopalian priest offers us "Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing Your Pastor's Morale."   Some of these wouldn't fly in a Catholic parish, but they are funny none the less.

Dems/B.O. didn't listen to the Tea Party in 2009.  Will the GOP listen in 2010?  I seriously doubt it.

NASA's "primary mission" to improve Muslim self-esteem.  Hilarious cartoon.

Analysis of the DOJ's suit against AZ.  The DOJ has an uphill battle to fight against Supreme Court precedent and common sense.  Of course, neither precedent nor common sense has ever prevented a judge from imposing his/her political will on the people.

The Times Watch. . .a great site that watches a once great newspaper.

Steven Wright quotes:  "If a person with multiple personalities threatens suicide, is that considered a hostage situation?"

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09 July 2010

Coffee Mug Browsing

SSM supporter warns his fellow liberals about applauding the recent decision against DOMA:  "Yea, it's the result we wanted, but the way we got it is not something to be happy about."  NB.  DOMA is not a ban on SSM.  DOMA exempts states from the having to recognize SSM performed in other states.  It also rules out federal benefits for same-sex couples in such a "marriage."

An analysis of the judge's decision.  Everyone seems to be intrigued by the judge's use of the Ten Amendment to strike down DOMA and worried at the same time.

More lefty Nanny State social engineering. . .this time in the so-called "financial reform bill."

B.O. has even lost the Jet-setting Eco-Egghead Hypocritical Elites of the Aspen Ideas Festival.  Poor Bambi.

Yet another Harvard Train Wreck appointment from B.O.  This one wants wealth redistribution through a UK-like NHS system.  NB.  he uses the term "planning the supply" when talking about providing health care services.  That's code for "rationing."

NAACP spokesman says that it is OK for racist whites to beat up blacks who aren't "black enough."  Dr. King must be so proud right now.

New Vatican norms will deal with clerical sexual abuse and the sin of the attempted ordination of women.  Strange combo indeed.  These issues should have been dealt with in separate documents.

Good story on the ex-Dominican Beat poet, William Everson

Another reason to cast a suspicious eye on the U.N.

Our Holy Father is writing an encyclical on faith.  This will bring to a conclusion a cycle of works on the three infused virtues (love, hope, faith).

"Reverse racism" at the DoJ.  There is no such thing as "reverse racism."  The term implies that only whites can be racists. 

Mitch Hedberg. . .weirdness personified.

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08 July 2010

As if free

NB.  There's a first time for everything, I guess.  This homily is from 2008 (with a few changes).  Though I have re-posted homilies before, I've never actually preached a homily for the day more than once (except when I celebrated two Masses on the same day).  In 2008, this one didn't get recorded.  Today, it will be. 

Update:  My recorder died.  I didn't notice until it was time to switch it on.  The Devil is out to get me!

14th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas

Though I have been an English teacher now for some twenty-two years, I’m not one of those fussy grammarian types who go around correcting “who” for “whom,” nor do I wag my finger at the barbarians who have killed the subjunctive mood of our verbs: “If I were going” not “If I was going…” Maybe I don’t do this sort of thing b/c I am a bad grammarian; regardless, there is one grammatical abuse that gets my school-marm bun in a twist:  "free gift” offered with purchase. First, if it is truly a gift it is free by definition, so the adjective “free” in “free gift” is redundant. Second, if you have to purchase something to get the free gift, it is not a gift but a bribe. Marketers aren’t stupid; I mean, they aren’t uneducated in the ways that people respond to language, so why do you think that they make this mistake over and over again in their advertising? "Gifts” must be labeled “free” b/c how many of us really believe that anything anymore is truly free?

That question leads us to this one: why would anyone upon hearing the proclamation of the coming of God’s kingdom and the gracious wish of peace upon one’s household, refuse to receive that word and the wish of peace by listening? Jesus tells the disciples that they are to proclaim the kingdom in whatever town or village they find themselves in. Upon entering the house of their host, “wish [the household] peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace be upon it…” If the house is not worthy, Jesus tells his friends, “let your peace return to you…go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” In other words, let nothing of their disobedience stay with you. They have refused the gift of peace that comes from hearing and doing—that is, listening—to the Word of God. Why would anyone refuse to listen?

Before instructing his friends on how to go out and proclaim the kingdom, Jesus reminds them, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” How many of those who hear the disciples proclaim the kingdom truly believe that the message is a “free gift”? The cynics will say, “Yea, free, suuure.” The pessimists will say, “Who needs a gift that promises to kill us?” The optimists will say, “I’m happy now; besides happiness can’t be given?” And the truly world-wise will say, “What do I have to buy to get this allegedly ‘free gift’”? Like the modern consumer, these folks do not believe anything is truly free. If they cannot believe that the proclamation of the gospel message is a gift, then how will they ever come to believe that something as infinitely valuable as their rescue from sin and death is a “free gift” from God? 

We have to wonder even now if we, the teachers and preachers of that freely given gospel, perpetuate the prejudice against the gospel being truly free. Jesus tries to help us now by telling his friends then not to preach with silver or gold or copper rattling around in our pockets; to go out preaching without a sack for the journey or a change of clothes or an extra pair of shoes. In other words, when we go out proclaiming the kingdom we are to appear as though the message we preach is free. So, the better question here might be: do those who refuse to listen to the freely given message of salvation through Christ see us as messengers who really believe that the message we bring is free? If the medium is the message, then we must look like the gospel we proclaim. Otherwise, those who hear but do not listen can say, “Looks like an expensive Way to go to me.”

The psalmist prays, “Let us see your face, Lord, and will shall be saved.” Looking at His preachers, how much do you reckon folks think they will have to pay just to glimpse His face? What is the price of salvation if we who believe live as if there is a price for all to pay?

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B.O.'s DoJ:  It's OK for militant black activists to intimidate white voters at the polls.  A vid of the fun-loving, racially tolerant cretin B.O. is using your tax dollars to protect.

Teaching the Bible in public schools?  This could be a very bad idea.  Do we really want public school teachers instructing our children on the literary, cultural, and historical value of the Bible?  I find it hard to imagine that the Word is going to come out sounding all that appealing to the kids.

"Down with Doom": Remember the doomsday scenarios of overpopulation, acid rain, the new Ice Age? 

B.O. is suing Arizona for pre-empting the Federal gov't's authority to enforce immigration law.  Rhode Island has been enforcing immigration law for years now.  Why didn't he sue RI?

Shredding the latest NYT hit-piece on the Holy Father. 

More liturgical nonsense from Austria:  an American Wild West Mass.  I have to wonder what my Dominican brother, Crdl Schonborn was thinking when he approved this travesty.

Ironic facial hair?  Checklist for the Hipster's moving day.

Cute Fix for the day.

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Philosophy amongst the squirrels and mosquitos

Quick note on the books sent to my parents' place in MS. . .

All the books ordered from the Wish List arrived safe and sound.  My nieces helped me open them.  Though they enjoyed ripping into the packages, they were less than thrilled to discover philosophy books inside.  :-)  

Of the 14 books sent to MS, only two had shipping invoices with return addresses. (This is almost always the case with used books.) One had an email address and one had only a partial name (thanks to Sylvia B.!)

Thank You notes were promptly sent. . .with Scuba Becky reminding me to do so with her loving motherly scowl.  She knows better than anyone what a procrastinator I am!

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07 July 2010

Mass Times and Places

Q:  Where and when are you saying Mass, Father?
A:  I will be celebrating the noon Mass at the Church of the Incarnation, Univ. of Dallas on Wednesdays and Thursdays. 

Also, this Saturday (10th) I will have the 5pm Mass at U.D. and this Sunday (11th) I will have the 11am Mass.  I think Fr. Rudy and I will be switching off on the weekends.

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Seeking & Finding the Face of the Lord

Mea culpa:  I forgot to bring my recorder to Mass with me, so no podcast of this homily.  Also, someone kidnapped my Liturgical Fan. . .no ransom note yet.

14th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

While resting up in Mississippi and filling up on good home cooking, I took time to do some reading for my dissertation. The big argument in the philosophy of religion these days is a debate about whether or not religious skepticism is justified given God's choice to maintain largely hidden from His creatures. Skeptics claim that “divine-hiddennes” is evidence that a perfectly loving God does not exist. After all, a perfectly loving God would do everything in His power to make sure that His existence was plainly evident. That this evidence is not apparent indicates that a perfectly loving God does not exist. Setting aside the many excellent retorts to the spurious assumptions of this argument, let's ask a question that should be worrying Christians all over the world: are we evidence of God's existence; that is, do we live out our Christian lives in such a way that a skeptic could point to us and say, “Well, I guess a perfectly loving God exists after all!”? If you are failing in this, listen again to the prophet Hosea, “. . .break up for yourselves a new field, for it is time to seek the Lord. . .” 

It is time to seek the Lord for the Kingdom of God is at hand; therefore, seek always the face of the Lord! And while you seek His face, show Him to all those who seek with you. Seeking God is not difficult. We are hard-wired to long after the perfect love that God is. Though we love imperfectly, loving things that are not God, that we love at all is the immediate result of God loving us first. In fact, that we are here at all, that we merely exist in the first place is His gift. So, looking for Him is something we do naturally aided by supernatural grace. The more difficult task, the seemingly impossible task is to live day to day in a way that shouts out to the world—to anyone who will see and hear—you are loved! An impossible task? No, not really. Difficult, maybe. Certainly, onerous. There's no trick to being convincing evidence of God's perfect love. But there may be a good way of doing what's difficult while you do what comes naturally.

Think of your daily spiritual work like this: showing God's perfect love to all those who seek Him IS the way I myself seek after the face of the Lord. In other words, the best way for you to find God is to help others find Him. Do you tend to think that you must first find God in order to show Him to others? How can I show others what I myself have not yet found? Are you waiting to “get it right,” waiting to become holy before you love others as God loves you? If you answered yes, then please remember: any act of genuine love, anything you do or say that reflects mercy, compassion, forgiveness; every sign you give that you are grateful for your own redemption through Christ Jesus, all of these are done and said only in virtue of the fact that God loved you first. Therefore, any evidence you present can be convincing testimony to those hunger to see the face of the Lord. 

The Kingdom of God is at hand. Break up for yourselves a new field, for it is time to seek the Lord. It is time to seek Him by bringing out of hiding the love He has always shown you. By your every word, every deed, every thought give evidence to His people “till he comes and rains down justice upon you.”

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Coffee Mug Browsing

And we're back!  Why "Coffee Mug Browsing"?  Well, the bowl won't fit in the $9.00 coffee maker I bought at WalMart.

Fascinating video detailing several socio-economic contributors to the fall of the Roman Empire.  Hint:  high taxes and bloated state bureaucracies were at the top of the list.

Why is B.O. not "doing something" about the Gulf oil spill?  A selection of sane/paranoid/raving mad answers.  I like the paranoid answers. . .but, then again, I'm a troublemaker.

Why liberals should love the Second Amendment. . .

Not a discouraging word. . .lib blogs clamp down on combox dissent regarding Dear Leader.

John Allen drags us through the news with "Seven days that shook the Vatican."  Repeat after me:  The Gates of Hell shall not prevail. . .the Gates of Hell shall not prevail. . ."

Self-referential, brain-twisting cartoon on analogies, metaphors, and similes

Yet another bullet to the head in the long, slow suicidal decline of Anglicanism. 

New boss at the Congregation of Bishops in Rome, Crdl Ouellet of Canada.  From what little I know about the Good Cardinal, this is an excellent appointment. . .though Crdl Pell would have been an even better choice.

Mark Shea explores clericalism. . .both the More Catholic than the Pope variety and the Spirit of Vatican Two Peace Bong variety.  NB.  he cribs my saintly invention, St. Narcissus!

If we had to tolerate one or the other, which should we tolerate:  heresy or schism?  My vote: heresy.  Keep the heretics in the Church and pray for their conversion.

A future Catholic husband in the making?  Oh, I think so.

Groan Alert!  Puns-a-plenty.

The luckiest people alive. . .some of these are gut-wrenching. 

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06 July 2010

Back in TX

I made it back to Texas!

There's no internet access in my room. No phone service either. So, no postings until the internet thing is fixed.

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