05 February 2011

Go out salty and bright!

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

I come to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, not with the subtleties of philosophical argument; or the passion of a desert wild man; or the precision of a nuclear physicist; or the eloquence of a Senator from ancient Rome. I do not come with sublime words or worldly wisdom, with fireworks or technological marvels. I won't text, Twitt, or Facebook the mystery of God for you, nor will His mystery find its way onto a blog, or come to you in mp3 format to download onto your iPod. I know nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I come to you in weakness and fear and much trembling. My message to you is not delivered with persuasive words of wisdom, or attention-seeking gimmicks but with a demonstration of Spirit and power. Why, you ask? So that your faith might rest on the power of God and not on human wisdom. This might be how the apostle Paul would begin his homily if he were preaching at St. Joseph's Church this evening/morning. He would say to us what he wrote to the Corinthians 2,000 years ago: your faith must rest on the power of God and not on any human wisdom, not on any science or philosophy or rhetoric or mystical experience, or anything other than the freely given gift of His excelling love. Argument, experiment, oratory, prophecy—all the ways in which we observe, measure, and try to control creation are meaningless when applied to the mystery of God. God reveals Himself to His people, and when He does, we are transformed into a tribe that preserves and seasons, into a people that pierces the darkness b/c our own darkness has been pierced. We are the salt and the light for the world. And we must not lose our flavor. We must not lose our brightness.

Teaching the disciples, Jesus lays it all out for them, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” If salt can lose its power to season, what is there to season the salt? What brings flavorless salt back to life? What Jesus is asking here is this: who can bring the faith back to the disciples if they lose it? Each disciple was personally chosen by Christ himself. He's taught them his secrets. He's given them the means to interpret his parables. He's made Peter his steward, giving him the keys to the kingdom. The disciples have lived with Jesus; eaten with him; fled the crowds with him; nearly drowned with him. They've seen every healing miracle, every wonder he's performed. They met with him privately many times and questioned him many more. If there are any saltier in the faith than these men, we don't know who they are! If they lose faith, if they succumb to despair or anxiety, or fall prey to false teaching or fanciful rhetoric, who will bring them back and return them to the Way? Jesus is urging his disciples to remain pure in their faith, to remain zealous in their preaching and to preserve the truth of his teachings. They cannot fail b/c there is no one who can restore the purity of their love for Christ.

In the ancient world, salt represented purity. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul insists on the purity of his preaching. He reminds the Church in Corinth that he came to them to preach Christ and him crucified. He came to them with the power of the Spirit and not with “the sublimity of words or of wisdom.” He preached out of what later saints would come to call “holy ignorance,” that is, a total reliance on the Spirit of God to provide the wisdom necessary to preach His truth. As a source of wisdom, Paul knowingly sets aside his training as a philosopher; his experience as a public speaker; and his extensive knowledge of the Law. He uses all of these to convey God's wisdom but none are the source of this wisdom. None reveal the mystery of God. None help him to receive all that God has to show him. God alone reveals His mystery. To the world, Paul is ignorant. For the Church, for us, he is salt and light. His preaching purifies, preserves, and enlightens the mystery we all participate in right now and hope to live with forever. Lest anyone misunderstand, Paul is not advocating an anti-intellectual faith, a sort of “blind faith” that shies away from education or the use of human reason. When Paul writes that he preaches “Christ and him crucified,” he means that he grounding his testimony in the historical death and resurrection of the man Jesus. He is not arguing his way to belief with logic and rhetoric. He is not emoting his way to faith. He is not experimenting his way to God in a lab. The wisdom Paul preaches is God Himself revealed in Christ crucified. No set of premises can reach this conclusion. No collection of physical evidence can compel this kind of trust.

When Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he is reminding them that they have witnessed God's Self-revelation in his own life and works. After the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, they will remember—even as we do today—that when they saw and heard and followed Christ, they saw and heard and followed God Himself. They remember—even as we do today—because the Spirit of God comes upon them, surpassing all human understanding, and overwhelms them with His recreating love. Like salt sown to purify and light shone to pierce the darkness, they go out preaching, offering testimony, healing the sick, freeing the captive, and feeding the hungry—even as we do today. Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “. . .your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Our good deeds, done in imitation of Christ, are done so that others might come to glorify the Father. We help others pay their light bills in order to glorify God. We donate food, clothing, and toys in order to glorify God. We build and repair homes in order to glorify God. And when we do these things, God's light shines through us and we remain, as Christ commands, salty.

I started this homily by imagining what Paul might preach to us this evening/morning. I said that he would say to us exactly what he said to the Corinthians 2,000 years ago. And this would be the right thing to say. HOW we are tempted to lose our flavor and dim our lights may have changed in two millennia, but WHAT tempts us is no different. The Corinthians suffered from what Paul calls “itchy ears.” They wanted to hear what they wanted to hear. They wanted complex theologies and elaborate philosophies. They wanted logical arguments and scientific proofs. They wanted eloquence and what passed for wisdom. Don't we, in our way, want these too? How much do we rely on the world's wisdom for our moral choices? Do we accept as normal our culture's worship of Self? The use of violence to solve our problems? How much do we depend on technology to maintain our personal relationships? Do we allow caffeine, nicotine, amphetamine, alcohol to rule our moods? My point here is not to scold or blame but rather to show that we are as tempted now as the ancient Corinthians were to set aside the most fundamental truth God has given us: His love in Christ Jesus. We are tempted in ways that the Corinthians could never imagine: TV, internet, cell phones, credit cards, self-help psychobabble. But the temptation itself remains unchanged: replace God as the center of your life with something or someone else, anything or anyone else. Make a created thing your god. If and when this happens, you lose your saltiness; your light dims. 

In weakness, with fear and much trembling, go out into the world, wherever you find yourself and preach—in word, deed, thought—Christ and him crucified. Shine the light Christ has given you. And give all glory to God the Father! The brighter you shine for others, the more of His mystery you will see.

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Tea Party radicals call for the "lynching" of a black federal judge. Oh, wait.

Sorry, but you can't pull away that fast!

Good news:  Grand Poobah of Iran says that the riots in Egypt are a sign of Islamic awakening

To all my Brit friends:  don't worry. . .he'll be gone in Jan 2013.

No tax $$$ for Planned Parenthood in NJ.  Gov. Christie is the Man!

BXVI introduces YouCat, a youth-catechism.  I'm a little wary of this.  Generally, anything written for youth in the "language of their generation" is quite possibly dodgy.  But the Holy Father likes it, so. . .

Thought for the day. . .it brought a smile to my face.

Oh, how often have I wanted to help some poor illiterate person with their letters.

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04 February 2011

More Planned Parenthood vids. . .

Three more videos showing Planned Parenthood personnel helping a "pimp" get birth control, STD testing, and abortion info for his underage "prostitutes."

The dribble continues.  And where is the NYT, NPR, CNN, CBS, etc. in the coverage of these scandals?  For the most part they are doing nothing more than mouthing P.P. talking points and trying to dig dirt on LiveAction. 

Imagine for a moment that these vids were being taken by an immigrant advocacy group and the "victims" were border patrol agents mouthing off about how much they love assaulting illegals when they catch them, etc.  Now those vids would get coverage 24/7.  And they should.  

And so should these vids exposing P.P.

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Don't be a Fool

4th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

At some point in his life, Herod was probably a wiser man than he was that night when Salome danced for him. He probably made wiser choices based on better information. His choices may have helped some, hurt some but overall they were probably more beneficial than his rash decision to grant the dancer her heart's desire. This is not to say that Herod was wholly righteous, only that he probably wasn't always a fool. Fools are made not born, and it takes time to become a genuine fool. King Herod is a good case of an otherwise morally complex man devolving into foolishness. We might start the history of his moral decline by looking at the corrupting influence of wealth and power. We could also look at how having people fawn all over him lead him to believe in his personal infallibility. Of course, we can't ignore the impact that a beautiful, young woman can have on an older man's sense of right and wrong. But Herod's decline started well before Salome dropped her first veil. Like all once great men and women who fall, Herod's devolution into foolishness started with pride. Salome and her mother, Herodias, took advantage of the king's pride and lust and turned his generosity into murder. But they were successful only because Herod was ruled by fear. We know this when we ask and answer this question: why does a powerful king keep a holy and righteous man in locked away? Fear makes us foolish, and foolishness is the enemy of wisdom.

Herod locks John the Baptist in prison b/c he fears the prophet's righteousness, a righteousness derived directly from John's contact with God. Mark tells us that “when [Herod] heard [John] speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.” This tells us that Herod is still capable of discerning wisdom even though it puzzles him. Herod knows that marrying his brother's wife violates the divine law. Yet pride will not allow him to confess the sin and repent of it. John's persistence in preaching against Herod's sin compels the king to imprison John, thus keeping John close but also preventing him from preaching against Herod publicly. We can almost hear Herod's internal conflict. God's wisdom and the king's conscience draw Herod to John's preaching, but power, lust, and misplaced generosity prevent him from choosing wisdom over foolishness. Having consistently chosen to accomplish apparently good ends by evil means, Herod reaches a point where Salome and Herodias tip the scale and the king murders John, becoming, in this deadly choice, a Royal Fool.

Fools are made not born. In fact, fools are self-made, constructed, if you will, out of hubris, and played by men and women who once listened to wisdom. If Herod's power and pride started his decline, then fear accelerated it and hard-heartedness sealed the deal. Like all of our moral choices, vice is a habit. We choose again and again to call evil Good. Over time, we are no longer capable of recognizing the Good and come to believe that in choosing Evil we are choosing Good. Herod believes that keeping John in prison prevents political unrest. Even though he is distressed by Salome's request for John's head on a platter, Herod justifies the prophet's execution as an act of fidelity to his oath, fearing embarrassment if he breaks it. The king is motivated at every decision-point by vicious habits and these habits take him—step by step—right into the claws of foolishness. 

Hearing, seeing, and doing God's wisdom are all habits. Choices and actions we must take one at a time, step by step. Each decision we make brings us closer to foolishness or closer to wisdom. If God is our light and salvation, then let our prayer be: “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid.” I will not to fear.

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03 February 2011

UFO Over Jerusalem. . .Comments by Mississippian (UPDATED)

Very strange indeed. . .

A ball of light descends on the Dome of the Rock, hovers for a few seconds, and then shoots up into the sky and disappears.

NB.  The woman who says, "We see these things all the time in Mississippi. . ."  Now, that's a southern drawl if I've ever heard one.  And I have.

I'm going to follow this story to see if there's a plausible explanation. . .I mean, other than the presence of an angel over Jerusalem.

UPDATE:  Mark Shea links to the HowStuffWorks site that claims the vid is a hoax.  It probably is. But there is a tendency among some to dismiss the possibility of the supernatural simply b/c allegedly supernatural events can be duplicated technologically.  That an event can be duplicated technologically doesn't mean that the original event was itself technologically produced.

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More underage girls, more pimps, & Planned Parenthood

Taking their cue from the guys who brought down ACORN, the LiveAction crew is dribbling out their undercover vids over a long news cycle.

This serves several good purposes:  1). It gives P.P. and their leftist apologists in the media time to coordinate a response before releasing the next vid that shows them to be liars; 2). it keeps the scandal in the news over a long stretch of time, making it difficult for the apologists to bury the story; 3). it increases the sense that the problem is not simply a "one and done" deal but a systemic problem. . .which it is.

We've already seen P.P., NPR, CBS, and several other media outlets trying to downplay the vids or undermine their credibility.  The narrative they are spinning--it's all just the work of one out of control branch manager in NJ--can't stick now that a second vid has been released out of VA.  

Now we wait for P.P., NPR, etc. to spin the VA vid and then the next dribble from LiveAction that exposes their lies. 

God bless Lila Rose and her fearless crew! 

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01 February 2011

Pimps, Abortions, and Planned Parenthood (UPDATED)

Tax-payer funded abortion provider Planned "Parenthood" is caught giving advice to a pimp about how he can acquire abortions for his underage prostitutes.

Why are these people still in business?

Special note to pimps:  Planned Parenthood gives you a discount for your underage girls!

Update:  Apparently, P.P. reported to the Feds that someone was trying to obtain abortions for underage prostitutes in their clinics.   Presumably, this "someone" was the Live Action operatives.  The clinic worker in the video has been fired by P.P. 

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Coffee Cup Browsing

More "global-warming" shenanigans from the U.K. Met Office.  These people are trying to undermine public confidence in their apocalyptic fantasies about climate change.

More here on how U.K. ideologues in the Met Office are abusing science for political ends.

Good question:  if ObamaCare is so great, why has the White House exempted 777 businesses and unions from its onerous requirements?  Better question:  why are the unions that supported ObamaCare scrambling for exemptions?

On the difference btw superstition and supernaturalism.  This is a particularly difficult distinction for Catholics to grasp b/c of our sacramental imaginations.   It's very easy to move from "sacramental rite" to "magical spell."

Petard Hoisting:  Federal judge uses B.O.'s 2008 campaign rhetoric against him.  Too funny.

The consequences of putting Sudafed behind the counter.  During the Christmas break, I went into a Target and asked the pharmacist for a box of "non-drowsy Benadryl."  She looked at me funny and said, "That's a contradiction in terms."  I said, "Oh no, not another contradiction!"  

A priestly rant!  I really like Father's hairdo.

More background info on the new exorcism movie, The Rite.

Several articles from the Diocese of Columbus on the corrected translation of the Roman Missal.

Um. . .OK. . .no comment.

One of these things is not like the others.

Finding Jesus/Heaven & Hell.   This reminds me of a bumpersticker I saw once:  "Jesus Saves. . .But he Doesn't Invest"

Weapons for office destruction!

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31 January 2011

ACK! HancAquam is falling. . .


Eric Sammons is reporting that HancAquam has fallen out the Top 20 Catholic Blogs.   We're down to #27.

So. . .if you haven't subscribed to HA, please do so!  I rarely post more than twice a day, so you won't be flooded with update notices.

The subscription link is the right side bar. . .

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30 January 2011

The Gospel: pungent & offensive

4th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Joseph Church, Ponchatula

While thinking and praying about the Sermon on the Mount and what I would preach about this morning/evening, I read a review of the newly released movie, The Rite. Based on a book by an American priest who studies the art of exorcism in Rome, the movie takes some liberties with author's story and threatens to turn his spiritual battle into a demon-populated spring break flick. According to the all the reviews I've read, however, the movie does an excellent job of portraying the priest's battle with the Devil without becoming just another horror movie. One review in particular caught my attention. John Zmirak, who writes for the website, Inside Catholic, appreciates the movie b/c it goes a long way toward challenging the oftentimes Hallmark-like way that our faith is portrayed by Hollywood. He writes, “The Catholic faith is neither [simply bland nor inoffensive]. In fact, like really authentic Mexican food (think habeneros and fried crickets), it is at once both pungent and offensive. It offends me all the time, with the outrageous demands it makes of my fallen nature and the sheer weirdness of its claims. It asserts that, behind the veil of day-to-day schlepping, of work and laundry and television and microwaved burritos, we live on the front lines of a savage spiritual war. . .” If we need an example of the “sheer weirdness” of our faith, we couldn't ask for better than the Sermon on the Mount. Just about everything Jesus says in this sermon is “pungent and offensive” to just about everything our culture wants us to believe. Living as faithful Catholics in this world is often an exercise in contradiction and opposition.

Before we get to the Sermon itself, let's take a look at what Paul writes to the Corinthians. It's pretty clear that Paul understands just how weird our commitment to Christ can be. Consider, for example, who it is that God has called into His Church: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing. . .” This sounds to me like a recipe for disaster! Rather than picking the wise, the strong, the highly placed and well-loved of the world, God calls out the foolish, the weak, the lowly and the despised. Imagine if God had pitched His idea for establishing a Church to a group of American investors and told them, “Management and personnel will be recruited from the poorest of the poor; from the wretched, the broken and diseased; from the uneducated and poorly educated; from the mentally and emotionally crippled; basically, I want this new enterprise to be a place where all the rejects and throwaways of the world can come to find healing and peace.” Do you think the investors would jump at the chance to buy into this obviously doomed project? Or would they tell God that His plan was “sheer weirdness” and walk out? To the modern American sense of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, everything about the Church God has given us reeks of falsity, evil, and ugliness. 

Of course, we don't have to imagine that God planned a Church like the one presented to the investors. He, in fact, established just such a Church, and we are it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out his business plan. Who will be among the blessed? The poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger for righteousness; the merciful and the clean of heart; the peacemakers and those persecuted for righteousness' sake. Find a wretched soul, broken and beaten by the world, persecuted for his or her trust in God, a soul steeped in mourning, yet thirsting for justice, and you have found the Church God established. Everything about this picture of our faith is just weird, simply bizarre. What could be more offensive and pungent to the world than an organization that prizes above all else the blessedness of mercy, forgiveness, meekness, poverty of spirit, self-sacrifice, obedience, moral restraint, charity, and life-long fidelity? That Christians are the single most persecuted group of religious believers on the planet tells us that there is little about our strange faith that pleases the powers of this world. That Christians—especially Catholics—are safely ridiculed, discriminated against, and openly slandered tells us that the Church sits in the midst of our culture like a pungent, offensive prophet—a living sign of contradiction, a witness against the vanities of the world and the futility of trying to be wise without God. 

The Sermon on the Mount is a prediction and a promise. Jesus predicts our persecution and promises us blessedness. He makes it perfectly clear that following him back to the Father will be not only difficult but dangerous as well, potentially deadly and most definitely discomforting. And even if we weren't persecuted for standing against the demands of a culture without God, the outrageous demands of the Church herself would be difficult enough. Think for a moment about what it is that we are asked to believe. We are asked to believe that there is an all-good, all-knowing, ever-present god who loves us. Yet, evil seems to flourish. Disease, violence, unimaginable suffering, natural and man-made disasters. We are asked to believe that this god took on human flesh and sacrificed himself for our benefit. We are asked to restrain perfectly naturally passions and desires so that we might imitate the goodness of this god. Perhaps the most outrageous demand for modern Americans is that we are asked to sacrifice in order that others might flourish, to set aside our own needs, our own wants and work diligently for the benefit of strangers and for our enemies. What sane person helps those who would see him dead? But therein lies blessedness. That's not just a promise made by a crackpot preacher 2,000 years ago. That's a promise made by the Word made flesh, God Himself, a promise already fulfilled and waiting for us to claim it.

Living in this world as faithful Catholics is often an exercise contradiction and opposition. We stand against a culture that promotes death as a solution to unwanted pregnancies, terminal illnesses, and inconvenient suffering. We stand against a culture that promotes the goodness of satisfying every base desire regardless of the consequences. A culture that rewards lying, self-promotion, greed, the prestige of wealth and celebrity. But while standing against the tides of this world, we stand with the blessed: the poor, the diseased, the oppressed, those persecuted for the faith. We stand with self-sacrifice, unconditional mercy, boundless hope, and the promise of freedom from the slavery of sin. Most importantly: we do not stand alone, as individuals but together as one Body in Christ. With all of our weirdnesses, all of our outrageous demands, with all of our pungent and offensive beliefs, we are of one heart, one mind, and we give God thanks and praise with one voice. Our hope lies in a single truth. Though we are engaged on the frontlines of a spiritual battle, the war has already been won. God is victorious. Our work—as His faithful sons and daughters—is to make sure that His victory shines through everything we do, everything we think, everything we say. As living, breathing testimonies to His redeeming love, we stand—as weird and offensive as we can sometimes be—we stand always as witnesses for His will that all of creation return to Him, whole, pure, perfected in Christ.

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