26 March 2011

On eating with sinners

2nd Week of Lent (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

Way back in the early 80's, my university's Episcopal chaplain told me that he frequented a local pub wearing his collar. I was a just a little scandalized. When he saw my discomfort, he went on to tell me that he went to all sorts of bars in his collar—biker bars, “alternative-lifestyle” bars, pool halls, honky-tonks, and even truck stops! I asked him if he went to these places to preach. He smiled and said, “No, I go to get a beer. But I always end up hearing confessions. When people won't come to church, the church has to go to them.” Though I undersstood his point, I was still a just a little scandalized. Wouldn't people see a priest hanging out in a bar as a sign that he approved of what might be going on there? Shouldn't a Christian—especially a priest—give a better example by avoiding these places and the people who go to them? Tax collectors and sinners were drawn to Jesus and they listened to him. The Pharisees and scribes saw this, and they began to grumble about this imprudent rabbi, “He welcomes sinners and eats with them! They will start to believe that they aren't traitors and sinners!” Jesus answers the complainers with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Bad Son returns to his father after wasting his inheritance on wine and women. The Good Son complains to their father that his own goodness has never been celebrated. The father says, “My son, you are here with me always. . . your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” 

Very often this parable is misused to dismiss or downplay the seriousness of sin. Or to justify merely socializing with notorious public sinners. Not every instance of eating with pagans, prostitutes, or enemies of the gospel is used to preach or to hear confessions. Sometimes, the excuse, “Well, Jesus ate with sinners and the Pharisees accused him of being impure too!” is just that, an excuse, a convenient alibi for rubbing elbows with the people we want to be seen with—the rich, the powerful, the prestigious, the popular people who might be able to sprinkle a little of their glitter onto us. Yes, the father welcomed his Wayward Son back into the family with a grand celebration; and yes, the Good Son is whining about having his goodness ignored. But the father is crystal clear about one thing: before returning to the family, the Celebrated Son was lost. Now, he is found—contrite and reconciled. 

The parable Jesus tells in answer to the Pharisees' accusation is the story of each of us returning to the Father. Our Father doesn't celebrate our leaving. He doesn't celebrate our sin. Had the Bad Son returned to the family unrepentant, demanding his place at the table and arguing that his dissolute behavior wasn't sinful or that it is his right to live anyway he chooses, his father wouldn't be celebrating. But b/c his son returns to him, repentant and resolved to live righteously, the party goes on! So, there are two cautions in this parable. The first caution is for those of us who would accuse Jesus of impurity for eating with sinners. Sinners are the ones who most need to hear God's mercy proclaimed. Do not assume then that Christians who eat with sinners are merely socializing. The second caution is for those of us who would see in the father's celebration an implicit approval of sin, or assume that the father is ignoring the son's sin just be fatherly. The son was lost. But now that he has repented, he is found. 

Each of us is a sinner. All of us are called to repentance. Between sin and God's mercy, we need all the help we can get.

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25 March 2011

Another (failed) attempt to rescue God from the Bible

The Rev. Albert Mohler (Southern Baptist theologian) reviews the controversial new book, Love Wins:  a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived by Rob Bell.  Mohler correctly points out that Bell's book is nothing new; it's rehashed universalist heresy dressed up in hipper duds: 

The liberals did not set out to destroy Christianity. To the contrary, they were certain that they were rescuing Christianity from itself. Their rescue effort required the surrender of the doctrines that the modern age found most difficult to accept, and the doctrine of hell was front and center on their list of doctrines that must go.

As historian Gary Dorrien of Union Theological Seminary — the citadel of Protestant Liberalism — has observed, it was the doctrine of hell that marked the first major departures from theological orthodoxy in the United States. The early liberals just could not and would not accept a doctrine of hell that included conscious eternal punishment and the pouring out of God’s wrath upon sin.

Thus, they rejected it. They argued that the doctrine of hell, though clearly revealed in the Bible, slandered God’s character. They offered proposed evasions of the Bible’s teachings, revisions of the doctrine, and the rejection of what the church had affirmed throughout its long history. By the time the 20th century came to a close, liberal theology had largely emptied the mainline Protestant churches and denominations. As it turns out, theological liberalism is not only a rejection of biblical Christianity — it is a failed attempt to rescue the church from its doctrines. At the end of the day, a secular society feels no need to attend or support secularized churches with a secularized theology. The denial of hell did not win relevance for the liberal churches. It simply misled millions about their eternal destiny.

All Bell and his theological minions need to do is become Catholic and their concerns about hell are instantly relieved.  According to the Catechism, hell is the "definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed" (n. 1033).  Bell's unnecessary anxieties about hell and God's wrath result from the Protestant rejection of the magisterial authority of the Church.  He has rightly rejected a false notion of hell and replaced it with another.  

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24 March 2011

Read and Weep

The following is part of a critical analysis of a Youtube vid of some teenage girl's pop-song.  The song is trite, repetitive, and very much in keeping with what passes for music among her generation:  me, me, me.   The article about the vid is also trite and very much in keeping with what passes for academic writing among our Postmodern Betters.  Confession:  in my grad school days, I wrote many a paper that read like this.  Dominie, mea culpa, mea culpa, maxima mea culpa!

She offers the camera a hostage's smile, forced, false. Her smoky eyes suggest chaos witnessed: tear gas, rock missiles and gasoline flames. They paint her as a refugee of a teen culture whose capacity for real subversion was bludgeoned away somewhere between the atrocities of Kent State and those of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the start of a creeping zombification that would see youthful dissent packaged and sold alongside Pez and Doritos.

“Look and listen deeply,” she challenges. An onanistic recursion, at once Siren and Cassandra, she heralds a new chapter in the Homeric tradition. With a slight grin, she calls out to us: “I sing of the death of the individual, the dire plight of free will and the awful barricades daily built inside the minds of all who endure what lately passes for American life. And here I shall tell you of what I have done in order to feel alive again.”

Read the whole awful thing and weep for America, folks.  

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23 March 2011

Ransom for the many

2nd Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

We've all heard it a million times before: Jesus upsets the conventions of polite society. He revolutionizes religious expectations by pointing us beyond traditional models of power. Jesus spends his public ministry redistributing spiritual capital from a greedy priesthood to the “workers in the field,” rewarding those who sacrifice for the poor and the marginalized. Yes, we've heard it all before. . .largely b/c it's true. Put in more theological and less political terms, Jesus teaches his disciples (and us) that each of us is a priest, a prophet, and a king. Each of us—in virtue of our baptism in Christ—has a duty to sacrifice, to prophesy, and to rule. Along behind the Christ—the High Priest, the Final Prophet, and the Only King—we follow as servants, serving to the limits of our gifts, exhausting our time, talent, and treasure in the service of the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of us alone and all of us together pitch in to get the work of God done. And along the way, we suffer; we rejoice; we fail; we get back up; and we soldier on b/c “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” How does serving others as a priest, a prophet, and a king lead us to ransom our lives for many? 

Priests offer sacrifice to God and mediate between God and His creatures through prayer. The service we render to the world as priests is mediation—by example and by intercession. By example, we sacrifice; that is, through surrender to God we make our lives and the work we do holy. We are not called to do “good deeds.” We are called to do good deeds for Christ's sake, in his name and for his greater glory. By example, by doing what he himself did, we stand between the world and Christ, inviting the world to see and hear the mercy that Christ proclaimed to all. By intercession, we do the work of prayer on behalf of the world; in some cases; we do the work of prayer in the stead of the world. Our lives as priests ransom the many—pay for the many—when we pick up their debts and pay them from our own spiritual treasure.

Prophets see the fulfilled promises of God and measure our successes and failures in living up to our end of the covenant. With the death and resurrection of Christ, God's covenant promises are complete. However, we are still working toward meeting our obligations. The service we render to the world as prophets is judgment. Not through condemnation but through assessment and correction. If we see our godly end clearly, then we can see our how work is succeeding or failing. Measured against our obligations under the new covenant, are we on the Way or have we strayed? Alone and together, are we at our best, doing our best for the coming Kingdom? Our lives as prophets are ransomed for the many when we sacrifice popularity in the pursuit of Christ's perfection for ourselves and for the world.

Kings rule in order to guard righteousness, to preserve right relationships and protect the helpless. The service we render to the world as kings is justice. Not the worldly justice of vengeance or retribution but the justice due to the image and likeness of God in all. Guarding human dignity, the imago Dei, in all God's sons and daughters guards His sacred will that all come to Him freely in love. As servant-kings we are charged with ensuring that no one is prevented from answering his or her call to holiness, that no one is prevented from perfecting the image and likeness of God that gives them life. We ransom our lives for the many when we fight against the injustices that subjugate and destroy life.

When we serve Christ as his priests, prophets, and kings we sacrifice our lives to the service of his gospel—all are invited to the one table; all are called upon to repent; and all are forgiven. The greatest work that the least can do is serve the many by showing them the Christ.

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Anti-bullying programs aren't working b/c our Betters preach one thing and do another.

"Please, Your Holiness, may we have some more. . .philosophy, that is?"  Updated seminary formation guidelines = job security for Yours Truly!  :-)

For the umpteenth time in the last 100 yrs, social scientists predict the End of Religion.  Maybe they need to brush up on Freud's notion of wish fulfillment.

Can't make a decision?  Want to dodge all responsibility?  Need a political scapegoat?  Form a committee!

Looks like the somnambulant anti-war Left is starting to stir against B.O.'s war in Libya

Union bosses conspiring to topple U.S. economy in order to achieve socialist ends? 

How is the Roman Missal translated from Latin into English

Weekly Mass attendance has dropped by 50% since 1958

On the Church and unions.  Public sector unions are not the kind of unions Leo XIII or JPII had in mind.

How to know if you're really rocking. . .is there a diaper on your head?

This week on FOX's "Doggie Intervention". . .Chi-chi goes to rehab.

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21 March 2011

Choose your measure carefully

2nd Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

Forgiveness doesn't come naturally. If you've ever been called upon to forgive a serious offense, to absolve a grievous injury, you know that the ability to forgive the one who sinned against you is truly supernatural, a thing of God. The most difficult part of relieving the offender of his or her guilt is surrendering what you imagine to be your right of vengeance, the privilege of getting even. An imbalance in the scales of justice must be rebalanced. Hurt for hurt. Injury for injury. How else do you ensure that the offender will not offend again? Where else will I find peace except in the sure knowledge that the one who dared to sinned against me knows that any future misbehavior will be roundly and soundly retaliated against? And besides all this, there's a certain delight in being the victim of a sin. I'm set aside as a creditor, someone who is owed a debt. Collection of the debt—with interest—is a moment to relish, a heady moment when the offender realizes that his or her sin against me is going to cost them and cost them dearly. Resisting the temptations of exacting human justice and a little personal vengeance is a supernatural task, one that we accomplish only with the generous help of a loving God. Jesus puts the supernatural task of human forgiveness in practical terms, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. . .For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” 

We don't have to be a god or an angel in order to forgive. All we need to be is prepared to be measured by the same yardstick we have used to measure those who have sinned against us. Choose that measure carefully. Unless you are already morally perfect, spiritually whole, you might want to set aside Vengeance as your measure. You might want to rethink using Victim or Judge as your yardstick. Jesus has no illusions that we will easily set aside these all-too-human measures. He knows as well as we do—better even—what forgiveness costs in purely human terms. To be merciful as God is merciful means that we must trust that our generosity will not be abused. That our willingness to absolve an injury will not be seen as a weakness to be exploited. That we are not abandoning the need for law and order in favor of dreamy illusions that everyone has become a saints overnight. Fortunately, being merciful doesn't require us to forget about justice. But we are required to be merciful first, if for no other reason than we would want mercy for ourselves before justice is meted out.

The psalmist this morning has us praying, “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.” Amen to that! Deal with us according to your mercy. Deal with us according to the faith of your Church. Deal with us according to the love you have for your children. Just please don't deal with us according to our sins. If it's reasonable for us to ask for this kind of treatment from God when we sin against Him, then it is right and just that we treat those who have sinned against us in exactly the same way. Granted, thinking this way, acting this way does not come naturally to us. But the whole point of following Christ with our cross is that we are living supernatural lives, lives beyond our fallen natures. And we do so only b/c we have received the grace—the supernatural help—we need. Being merciful as God is merciful is not super-human; it's divine. And if we will be measured by the divine yardstick of mercy, we will give up vengeance, surrender beings victims, and always grant mercy before seeking justice. We were promised a cross. Pick it up and move on.

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20 March 2011

Coffee Cup Browsing (Link Fixed)

B.O. has not only adopted and expanded most of W.'s anti-terror policies. . .now he's adopted his speeches as well.

Ironies just keep on piling up. . .B.O. bombs Libya on the eighth anniversary of W. bombing Iraq.

Time to lower the legal drinking age.  Vote, die in war, get married/make babies, enter binding contracts, borrow money; buy tobacco, a house, a car, a gun. . .but somehow beer is off limits.  

Interview with Andrew Breitbart. . .His mission?  "To expose the counternarrative that has been hidden by those controlling the reins of popular culture."  More power to him!

Jets over Libya as H. Clinton Assumes Presidency

I saw Battle:  Los AngelesPerfect redneck movie.  Aliens?  Check.  Explosions?  Check.  Exploding aliens?  Check!  Go see it. . .if for no other reason than that the lefty critics hate it.

Raising expectations to keep things in perspective. . .

(Link fixed) This is why I didn't that Zombie machete gun I wanted for Christmas!   @#$% illegal aliens.

Bottle water. . .tears of the damned