NB. This is not the homily I preached this morning. It is either a very good homily and the devil didn't want it preached. . .or a very bad one and God intervened. The computer in my office didn't recognize the homily's format. Fixed that. The printer was jammed. Fixed that. The printer was out of black ink. Tried to print it out in blue or red. Also out. Found a replacement cartridge. . .wrong size. Finally, I gave up and preached without a text!
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph's Church, Ponchatula, LA
When I am in Rome I live with about 70 other friars in a 16th-century monastery located just two blocks from the ruins of the Imperial Forum. We live about five blocks from the 1st-century Colosseum and less than a block from the Emperor Trajan's 2nd-century market. You can't look out a window of the priory without seeing history layered upon history—pagan, imperial, Christian, Renaissance, and fascist. And even though Rome is a thoroughly modern European city, those heavy layers of history tend to insulate Romans from one of the most pernicious habits of modern American culture, namely, the worship of novelty for the sake of novelty. Here in the U.S. our daily battle-cry is “Make it new!” and it is no accident that this call to arms came from an American expatriate poet living in Italy, Ezra Pound. So in love with the notion of novelty are we that we have built a nation, a culture, and a religious heritage on a foundation of “making it new,” on the promise that we can always start over, always pick ourselves up for a “do over.” So in love with novelty are we that even we Catholics sometimes believe that our life in Christ is all about me just setting my mind to the work of growing in holiness and getting it done: I can renew myself by myself if only my will is strong enough to endure all the trials and temptations thrown at me. I can make myself into a New Me and present myself to God as a lovable soul. Here's the bad news: this is not the gospel.
Now, here's the Good News: the Old You is a lovable soul; in fact, the Old You is loved—by God, if no one else. God is not waiting to love you until you figure out how to transform yourself in a New Lovable You. He is not hanging around heaven twiddling his thumbs waiting for you to get busy with growing in holiness so that you eventually become holy enough for Him to love. If this were the case, He would be waiting on a lot of us for eternity. So, instead of waiting for us to get lovable, God created us through His love, making us loved creatures from day one. From the very beginning, we are loved. From the very instant that space and time popped into existence from nothingness at His word, we are loved. There is nothing we can do, say, or think that will change this hard fact of creation. To believe otherwise is to believe that we have the power to change the very nature of God.
You are loved—by God, if no one else. If you are struggling to change yourself into new wine, fighting temptations and trials to make yourself into someone wholly new and different in order to be loved by God, stop it. Just stop it. Do something more useful with your time and energy. Instead, receive God's gift of love with humility and gratitude. Acknowledge your total dependence on His mercy. Make your day all about saying, “Thank you, Lord.” And in your sincere humility, with all the thanksgiving you can muster, love as He loves you. We cannot make ourselves new. We are made new wine by Christ. And only in Christ can we be new men, new women. Our American love of self-made novelty can become a competition for a prize we already possess. If there's a race for us to run, it's a race toward the goal of holiness, the perfection of our lives in Christ day to day, hour by hour.
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