22 January 2011

Repent. . .and do not empty out the Cross

3rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph's Church, Ponchatula

We who live in darkness, all of us who dwell in a land overshadowed by death—for us, a great light has arisen, a light that shines through our darkness to prove that death is not our end, that death is not undefeated, that death is nothing for us to fear. Anguish has taken wing and darkness is dispelled. The light brings us abundant joy and even greater rejoicing. No longer slaves to the master of sin—his yoke and rod are broken—we are free to flourish as the children of God, to await the coming of His reign, and the beginning of our lives beyond the death of this world. The light that lights our way back to God shines from the Cross of Christ, and it shines without condition or prejudice, without preference or exclusion. All are invited to rejoice in the freedom of God; all are invited to participate in His divine life; no one is left to stand unwillingly in darkness. Open your eyes to see Christ's light and the darkness of sin and death vanish. Close your eyes to his light and division, dissension, gloom, and distress will overwhelm you. Therefore, in order to open the eyes and the hearts of God's people, Jesus goes out and preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

We know that a heart turned away from the Cross of Christ empties both the heart and the cross. Paul warns the Corinthians that their factional divisions threaten more than just the social peace. The dissension among them tears at the foundation of their eternal peace—their lives in Christ as witnesses to God's mercy. Like all of us who have died and risen again with Christ in baptism, the Corinthians have vowed to serve in the world as living testimonies to the Father's love for His children. Once, the Corinthians saw the light of the Cross; they turned to the Lord, repenting of their sins, and flourished as a single witness to all that Christ's death and resurrection can do. Now, they are split into factions, each faction giving allegiance to one teacher or another. Appollos, Cephas, Christ, Paul. You can hear the distress in Paul's letter when he writes, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Our Corinthian brothers and sisters—once bright with the light of the Cross of Christ—live again in darkness. Having turned away from Christ, eagerly putting themselves back into the sin-master's yoke, and submitting themselves once again to the devil's whip, the Church in Corinth foolishly empties out the meaning of the Cross. Therefore, Paul preaches as Jesus himself preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Why must the Corinthians repent? Why do we have to repent? The kingdom of heaven is at hand. So what? Why is repentance such an urgent need? First, let's look at what “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” means? When something is “at hand,” it is close by, coming near. A tool “at hand” is easy to reach, easy to grasp. An “at hand” exam is coming up soon, probably tomorrow or sooner. When Jesus preaches that the kingdom of heaven is “at hand,” he means that his Father's kingdom is nearby; it is coming and will arrive soon. But what exactly is it that will soon arrive? In Mark's gospel, we usually see the phrase “kingdom of God.” Matthew tends to prefer “kingdom of heaven.” Both of these mean “God's sovereign rule.” So, Jesus is preaching the imminent arrival of his Father's reign over His people. What's left to figure out is who will be among His people.

Who will live in heaven's kingdom depends entirely on who turns away from disobedience and embraces the obedience of the Cross. Remember: the light of the Cross shines without condition or prejudice, without preference or exclusion. All are invited to rejoice in the freedom of God; all are invited to participate in His divine life; no one is left to stand unwillingly in darkness. If no one is excluded from the light, then why should anyone bother with repentance? Look at the Corinthians. Once, they lived and flourished in the light of Christ. But they fell into division and dissension, emptying their witness of all meaning. Paul calls them back to Christ—not with the wisdom of human eloquence—but by asking a simple question: “Is Christ divided?” He smacks them with an image of a Christ himself, undivided, one body. Come back to the unity of God's singular love and bear witness to His mercy. If the Corinthians can live in the light and turn away from it, then it must be the case that the light of Christ can be lost through sin. All are invited. No one is excluded. But to receive an invitation is not the same as accepting it and then showing up at the party. Even those who are intentionally included can choose to exclude themselves. The light of Christ shines on us all. But not all of us open our eyes to see, open our hearts to receive. Therefore, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

If the Lord's rule over His people is coming soon and repentance from sin includes us under His rule, what should a life of repentance look like while we wait for the kingdom to arrive? Ideally, the life we live day-to-day should look as much as possible like the life we will live in the kingdom. No division among us. No dissension. No factions claiming different teachers, alien teachings. As a body, we would honor and encourage the variety of gifts given to our members, each member perfecting the love of God by loving others in turn. There would be one heart and mind, the heart and mind of Christ; that is, a devotion to sacrificial service, giving up self so that holiness might thrive. True obedience—faithfully listening—to God's Word would be our first instinct. There would be no jealousy, no rivalry, no gossip or lying. We would eagerly serve the poor; all those oppressed by disease or disability; we would seek out and live in peace with one another. 

While we wait for the coming of the kingdom, we can live lives of repentance, lives lived constantly aware of both our gifts and our failures. Constantly aware of both what we have to give and what we need to receive. Most of all, a life of repentance is a life of humility, believing/feeling/acting fully aware that everything we have and everything we are is a gift, a freely given boon from God. We are wholly dependent on God. For this life here and now and for our lives to come. 

If we will serve in His kingdom, we must turn in obedience to the Cross. Open our eyes. Open our hearts. And receive the gifts He has given us. Therefore, repent. . .for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

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Bring on the crazzy!

NB:  This homily had a much better ending, but as I went to "save as" Open Office crashed and I lost it.  The Devil really is after me these days!

2nd Week OT (Sat)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

Jesus' family thinks he's nuts. They've heard about him roaming around the country healing and preaching, arguing with the Pharisees and challenging the scribes. They've heard that the crowds are so thick sometimes that he and the disciples couldn't even eat. Hearing all of this, his family sets out to seize him, saying, “He's out of his mind!” Knowing what we know about Jesus, we can sympathize with his poor family. Think about the claims Jesus makes. He can forgive sins, heal the sick, cast out demons. He claims to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God. This hometown boy from Nazareth is running around telling folks that he is the Anointed One whose coming is prophesied by Isaiah. His poor mama and daddy might worried sick! The Pharisees are worried too. . .for very different reasons. They too want to seize him. . .also for very different reasons. We know that Jesus isn't crazy. We know that we aren't crazy b/c we believe his Good News. But let's admit the truth about our faith: living in this world as followers of Christ can make us a little crazy. Trying to be Christ for others is not only difficult, it is dangerous to our mental health. And this is a risk well worth taking. Being sane in this world is its own kind of crazy.

You don't have to spend much time with the biographies of some our greatest saints to realize that there is a fine line between being holy and being nuts. St. Rose of Lima rubbed lye into her beautiful face so that her beauty wouldn't be a temptation for others. St. Catherine of Siena ate nothing but consecrated communion wafers for weeks on end. Other holy men and women lived in caves; sat on top of pillars; walled themselves up into houses. Some voluntarily moved into leper colonies or violent slums. St. Maximilian Kolbe volunteered himself to be starved to death by the Nazis in order to save a fellow prisoner who had a family. Are these men and women insane or holy? By the world's standards, they are surely as crazy as belfry bats. Following along behind Christ is dangerous; following him can put your sanity at risk. But if being sane in the world means rejecting the promises made by divine love, I say, “Bring on the crazy!”

On its own terms, our world offers us everything a self-aware animal wants and needs. Food, shelter, clothing, work, status, relationships, intellectual and emotional development. Given the right circumstances, a little hard work, and some luck, we can be comfortable and look forward to staying that way. But there's a price for this comfort. To get all we want and need in this world, we have to surrender any hope for living beyond the world. If we spend our time and energy trying to live here and now as if there were something, somewhere more than what we see and hear, we forfeit the riches of the here and now; we sacrifice comfort, security, maybe even family and friends. When we make decisions as if heaven and hell really exists, as if God is real and the gospel were true, everything we have becomes a chance to show this world that the world itself is a divine gift. 

Take a risk today. Live dangerously. Pray fervently, “Lord, bring on your crazy and give me what I need to be crazy for you!”

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21 January 2011

Coffee Cup Browsing

Gruesome report on the "doctor" who murdered the children who survived his botched attempts at aborting them.

What happened to the anti-war movement?  The movement seemed nearly ubiquitous between 2000-2008.  Haven't heard much from them since, say, Jan. 20th 2009. 

Fantastic article on a NJ lawyer who's fighting the Good Fight against abortion.  (H/T:  M. Shea)

Bishops and college presidents will discuss the Catholic identity of U.S. Catholic higher education

A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged.  Pro-union publisher fights his employee union.  Why?  He seems to understand that there's no point in his magazine having an employee union if there's no magazine to employ them. 

One of the settings for the "Gloria" in the corrected translation of the Roman Missal.  I like it.  The music seems just a tad somber for the text of the "Gloria". . .but it is a thousand times better than 90% of the settings we use now.

Advice to Young Conservatives.  Best advice:  "Don't become infatuated with politicians — Save the crushes for actors, rock stars, and the cute blonde in your U.S. History class. . ." 

Physics Nerd cartoon

Why the pool was closed. . .

Post-It Note art. . .some of these are amazing.

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20 January 2011

Kindle Weirdness (um, nevermind. . .)

Ignore the question below.  I figured it out.  Amazon sends an email notice that a Kindle Book has been purchased and I have to "accept" the gift.   How VERY Catholic!  

Thanks to HancAquam readers:  Will, Tanya, and Katie!  I will pray for you guys every time I click my little reader on.  You help keep me sane.

Oh, I should also report that that problem I was having with the Kindle randomly restarting has been resolved.  I was turning it off with the novel still open.  I tried returning to the Home Page before turning it off and that seems to have fixed the problem.

Here's a question for the HancAquam Techie Geeks. . .

My Kindle Wish List indicates that kind, generous, much prayed-for HancAquam readers have purchased three "books" from the K.W.L.  Mille grazie!

However, the "books" do not show up for download on my Kindle account.  Nor do they download when I connect wirelessly.

Any ideas out there, Beloved Geeks?

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Kindle Wish List. . .


I figured out how to set up a Kindle Wish List.

You will note that all of the books listed are historical fiction. . .no serious academic books, no poetry, no nothing I need for school.

Just books to keep me sane when Contemplating the One becomes too much to bear. . .


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No demonic witnesses

3rd Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

We never really want to say that Jesus behaved strangely while he preached and taught, but doesn't it seem odd that he would go around publicly performing healing miracles and at the same time order the unclean spirits who recognize him as the Son of God to be silent about his identity? I mean, if Jesus didn't want his sonship widely known, why cure diseases, expel demons, and claim to have the Father's authority to forgive sins? Mark reports that the crowds were so large and so eager to touch him that he had a hop on a boat in order to avoid being crushed! His message was getting out, so why silence the unclean spirits? Maybe we didn't want to risk being discredited by his religious enemies. They could accuse him of being an agent of the Devil if unclean spirits started witnessing to his identity. Maybe he didn't want his enemies to know too much about him before the proper time. There are a lot of maybe's. But one thing is clear: the demons know him as the Son of God. And though they know who and what he is, they do not believe in him; they do not share in nor benefit from the faith, hope, and charity of those whose eyes and ears are opened upon seeing Jesus and hearing his Word. Demons are not atheists. They believe in God's existence; however, unlike those who are healed by his touch come to trust in him, resting assured in his promises and loving as he loves them, demons do not trust, love, or live in hope. Therefore, there's a difference between knowing who the Son of God is and living in faith with him.

Jesus' public ministry of healing and preaching is something more than just an introduction to his identity. The author of the Letter of the Hebrews writes, “. . .[Christ] has obtained so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises.” The author here says that Christ's ministry is “more excellent.” More excellent than what? In context, he is referring to the ministry of the High Priest of the Jewish temple; he is comparing the priestly work in the temple with Christ's priestly work in heaven. Christ's priesthood is more excellent b/c his work is one and done, b/c Christ himself is both the sacrificial victim and the sacrificing priest. The covenant established by the cross and resurrection are “better” than the covenant with Moses b/c who Christ is and what he does is the fulfillment, the perfection of God's covenant with Moses. Where before the coming of the Messiah God's people received forgiveness in an earthly copy of the heavenly sanctuary, now we receive His mercy in a living sanctuary, the body and blood of the risen Christ—a better covenant, a more perfect promise of eternal life.

In the same way that Christ's covenant is a perfection of God's covenant with Moses, our faith in Christ is the perfection of simply knowing who he is. In other words, if merely knowing who Jesus is is a good thing, trusting in him is all the better. Even the unclean spirits know who he is; they know that Jesus is the Son of God. But they do not and cannot trust, hope, love. We can. Living in the hope that Christ reveals and loving as we are loved—these are what distinguish us from the unclean spirits. Perhaps Jesus silences the demons b/c he wants God's people to do more than simply come to know who he is. He wants us to trust him, to rest assured in his promises, to love. This cannot be the testimony of an unclean spirit. Only those with eyes and ears opened by his merciful Word can speak truthfully in faith.

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19 January 2011

Silence & Suffering

2nd Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph's Church, Ponchatula

During my novitiate, I broke my glasses. Instead of asking for permission to buy a new pair, I taped the broken ones and stubbornly insisted that what I had was just fine. Finally, the novice master called me into his office to talk. He pointed out that glasses were a necessity for me. He pointed out that there was money in the budget for a replacement pair. Over and over I dismissed his attempts to make me see reason. Obviously frustrated, he said, “Philip, ask me for permission to buy a new pair of glasses.” When I couldn't do it, it dawned on me that my reluctance to buy new glasses had nothing to do with spending money; it was all about pride. Asking for help was just too much. I was a self-sufficient, educated, 35 year old man who could not bring himself to acknowledge that someone else had the authority and resources to hand me a gift. All I had to do was ask for it. Unfortunately, my heart was hardened against receiving what I needed. It took an order from the novice master to break through my pride. I asked and I received. Now, I see. . .figuratively and literally! There is no truer sign of a hardened heart than silence as an answer to suffering.

Our Lord grows angry with the Pharisees for their silence at the suffering of the man with a withered hand. He grieves their refusal to look at the man as a beloved son of the Father, a son in need of healing. Rather than treating the man with the compassion he needs, they treat him as an occasion to trap Jesus in violating the Sabbath law. What makes this scene all the more horrible is that there was no law against doing good on the Sabbath. There was no consensus among the scholars on whether or not healing was considered work. Jesus puts the question to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Now, if there had been a philosopher among the Pharisees, he might have distinguished between healing a broken hand and saving a life. Saving the man's life on the Sabbath is clearly legal. Healing his hand is questionable. A philosopher would have pointed out that not healing his hand on the Sabbath is not an intentional evil. However, instead of debating the issue, instead of offering a reasonable answer to Jesus' question, the Pharisees remained silent. And it is this silence that makes our Lord angry.

We have to ask: why do the Pharisees remain silent? And why does their silence grieve the Lord? The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus. They are setting him up so that they can take him down. Rather than answer him, rather than heal the man, they sit quietly, giving him enough rope to hang himself. And does just that. Jesus heals the man's hand and the Pharisees plot to have him executed. What grieves the Lord is the willingness of the Pharisees to refuse the man compassion in order to achieve an immediate political end. In other words, they were willing to silently tolerate the man's suffering in order to catch Jesus breaking the Law. Their hearts were hardened against the only gift that the Father gives us: love. 

We cannot give what we ourselves have not received. We cannot love if we refuse the gift of love that our Father offers us. To remain silent in the face of suffering is to refuse the one gift we need more than any other—the loving care of the One who created us and redeemed us. The voice of a heart hardened against the Lord is silence.

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Coffee Cup Browsing is back!

P. J. O'Rourke:  on the NYT not resisting the temptation to make nonsense of the shootings in Tuscon. 

You are not a leader if no one is following you:  ". . .a lot of 'extremist' discourse is really just inconvenient truth-telling by political opponents the liberal establishment would rather not hear from."

Give this pilot a medal. . .and put his name of your prayer list!

Fascinated by the variety of American English accents?  Check out this map.  Click on a region and you will see a list of states with links to Youtube vids of natives showing off their particular way of speaking English.

Isn't it ironic?  Feds use Manhattan College's own recruiting material and canon law to rule that the college is not a Catholic institution.  The USCCB ought to make refuting and dismantling the Land O'Lakes Statement a top priority.

Enrollment in Catholic schools is dropping b/c parents don't see much difference btw the Church's schools and the local public school.

The Church of England is considering a proposal to rewrite its baptismal service to diminish or outright exclude all those pesky Christian words and concepts.  The reason?  To get non-Christians into the pews.  In other news. . .a local liquor store stops selling liquor in order to get more people to buy more liquor.

But there's hope for Anglicans!

MT state trooper runs 50mph to catch drunk driver.

No Comment Pic of the Day

I'd definitely live in this house. . .we'd need to build a chapel though.

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18 January 2011

Mississippi snow pics

Our patio after Sunday's snow (Jan 9th). . .

A snow tree. . .

A baby deer wandered into the yard. . .his mom and brother were somewhere nearby. . .

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Parish Life so far. . .

So far, so great!

My current assignment as parochial vicar at St. Joseph's Church marks the first time I have served in a regular parish.  I started my priesthood as a campus minister and from there moved to Rome to live in the Contemplative Clouds of the Academic Ivory Tower.  Though I've only been on the job for two days, I can say, "I love it."

I was enthusiastically welcomed by the folks here.  Our pastor, Fr. John Dominic, mentioned at Mass that I love fried chicken and cornbread.  When he and I returned to the rectory after the 5pm Mass on Sunday, a parishioner was waiting for us in the driveway with a plate of fried chicken and cornbread!  News travels fast in a small town parish.  Oh, and both chicken and cornbread were delicious. . .

So far, Fr. John has asked me to introduce the parish to the new, corrected translation of the Roman Missal. . .a job suited to an old English teacher, right?  I am hoping to offer some adult faith formation classes and start a reading group.  The parish has a large LifeTeen group and a school, so there will be opportunities there for some teaching as well.  

Now, how do I convince the parish cooks that my doctor will explode if I gain 15 lbs while I am here?  :-)

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17 January 2011


Question:  Did you get that Kindle you mentioned before?  How do you like it?  You should add some Kindle books to your Wish List.

Answer:  Mom came through with the Kindle and I have been enjoying it immensely.  I'm having a small problem with it though.  For no apparent reason it will simply stop and restart.  This results in me losing my place in the book I was reading.  Any ideas?

Look for a longer review of the Kindle in a future post.

I've updated the Wish List. . .but I haven't figured out how to transfer my Kindle account to the Wish List just yet.  I'll let you know!

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The heresy of novelty

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!

St. Anthony
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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16 January 2011

Adventures of a Flying Friar

Another friar and I shared a taxi to Rome's airport on the morning of Dec 18th.  We got out at Terminal 3, the "local flights" terminal.  Took me a few minutes to realize that I had to be in Terminal 5, the international terminal.  Long wait for the shuttle bus. . .arrived at T5 to find the place largely empty.  Quickly got to the Delta counter for check-in.  

Once there I was told that the flight to Atlanta was overbooked.  The clerk offered me a travel voucher to switch my reservation from Delta to an Alitalia flight arriving in Boston.  I was told that this flight would get me to Memphis 30 mins earlier than my original flight.  I took the voucher and waited for the clerk to switch my reservation.  All this done, I was told that the Alitalia flight was departing from Terminal 3.  

Back to T3 where I was greeted by thousands of passengers waiting in what counts as "lines" in Italy.  After about an hour waiting in line, I asked one of the clerks on the floor if we would be able to depart on time.  She informed me that all the flights to the US were delayed by two hours.  Great.  She then told me that I was in the wrong line for Boston.  Another hour in the "Boston line."  In the next thirty minutes or so the "Boston line" was shifted twice to different desks.  At one point, the throngs of American students in front of me grew very, very agitated.  Turns out that Alitalia was charging passengers for overweight/extra bags.  My checked bag cost me 100 euro!

We arrived in Boston twenty mins before my Memphis flight was due to depart.  When I went to check in, the clerk said, "Mr. Powell, you're late."  I responded--in a flat, "don't mess with me" tone--"No, your plane was late."  He tells me that I probably won't make the Memphis flight and offers to shift me to a later flight going through Atlanta.  I say, "No.  Put me on the plane to Memphis."  He escorts me to security and I rush through, practically running to the gate.  I arrive at the gate, sweaty, winded, and oh-so-aggravated.  

The clerk there tell me that the plane has pushed back from the gate.  I keep my cool. . .barely.  The clerk must've noticed my resolve not to go postal b/c she politely rearranged my reservation and offered her personal cell phone so I could call my dad and let him know that I was going to arrive in Memphis four hours late.  As she handed me my new boarding pass, the clerk tells me that she's bumped me to first class and included two meal vouchers for the airport.  This flight marks the first time I was ever flown first class in some thirty-five years of flying!  

We arrived in Memphis on time.  My mom and older niece were there waiting for me. . .Deo gratis!

The lesson:  never accept an offer from an American airline to switch your reservation to an Italian airline.  Never. 

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