10 September 2011

Firm Foundation or Total Collapse?

NB.  I have a lot of really good reasons why this homily is so bad. . .unfortunately, none of those reasons rise to the level of a decent excuse.  Oh well. . .

23rd Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Blackfriars, Oxford U.

Just in case you aren't keeping up with the latest fashions from Paris and New York, I thought you should know that foundations are out. I'm not taking about undergarments here or makeup but rather the sorts of foundations that purport to “hold up” our humane efforts toward exploring, describing, and explaining our world—that is, foundations like reason, God, reality, language, that sort of thing. Somewhere along the way, back in the early 60's, someone—no doubt, someone French—decided that “founding” the truth of our various claims to know stuff about the world was just slightly less embarrassing than wearing white socks with sandals. Can anyone who claims that their knowledge of the world is based on a sound foundation be taken seriously? No. No more seriously than someone who rinses mushrooms before the saute or pairs a winter fruit with a summer cheese! Now, of course, the arguments against foundationalism are more complex and serious than I'm letting on. However, the essential attraction of anti-foundationalism is less about its rational appeal and more about the alleged liberty it confers on the hearts and minds of its followers and the stamp of trendy approval that that alleged liberty imparts. Without a foundation, without foundations of any kind, the human heart and mind is supposedly freed to create, re-create, adapt, evolve, transfigure; to do and to be anything that the imagination can conjure. Attractive idea? Oh, yes. But remember, “When the river burst against [the house built w/o a solid foundation], it collapses at once and is completely destroyed." 

While some have been busy these last few decades or so dismantling the literary, philosophical, and theological traditions of the West—all sturdy suppliers of foundational materials—, the destructive force of the flooding river has only increased in strength. That's right. The storm hit; the waters started to rise; the dams broke; and rather than turn to the time-tested solutions found in God, reason, and revelation, some of us belly-flopped on the first wave in and try to ride the tide, all the while claiming that there is no danger, no destruction, no imminent collapse of culture. There can't be any danger b/c there are no foundations upon which to make such outrageous claims about the “truth.” Just narratives, texts, perspectives, and feelings—all fleeting, always in flux, unstable by nature, and one no more true than any other. 

Some of our contemporaries in the Church have bought into an anti-foundationalist version of the faith. The historic Christian faith is just a set of stories we tell one another, a set of literary texts we use to motivate ourselves to be better people. But can a 21st century Christian navigate a healthy course to real holiness w/o a rock-solid foundation in Christ? Of course not! Listen again to Paul writing to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The Word becomes Flesh, a man like one of us. An historical event. An historical event with a divine purpose, to save sinners. Yes, there's a story to tell and a text to dissect and a couple of different perspectives involved in the retelling. . .but we are telling, retelling, and dissecting an event. An event that makes our salvation possible and establishes a large piece of the foundation for our faith. Without this piece, without the incarnation, there is no Christ for us to be perfected into. The river floods its banks, bursts the dams, and our houses collapse and are completely destroyed. And why? B/c we built them—and our faith—on ground w/o a firm foundation. We listen to Christ, but we do not obey. We hear and do not act. Why would we call Christ “Lord” and then refuse to obey him? How exactly is he our Lord if we cannot/will not obey his commands? The firm foundation of our holiness is obedience to Christ—that is, listening to his Word and acting on his Word. There's nothing trendy, fashionable, or even all that practical about this sort of obedience. Unless of course you consider life everlasting in the presence of the Most High practical.

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06 September 2011

On not running on empty

23rd Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Blackfriars, Oxford U.

The artists, poets, musicians, novelists, and all the other demiurges of the 20th century culture-machine were deeply influenced by the “twin idols [of] humanism and nihilism. . .” So notes literary critic Joel Brouwer back in 2009. He goes on to observe that the simultaneous worship of the Human and Nothingness creates “an impossible religion. . .” When the reality of all things is measured by the human, and yet—at the same time—life is lived as if nothing is truly real, then what it means to be human is reduced to nothingness. Perhaps we should borrow an epitaph from the 5th century B.C. philosopher, Gorgias and use it for ourselves: "Nothing exists; and even if something does exist, nothing can be known about it; and even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it cannot be communicated to others." This is the sort of “seductive philosophy” that Paul warns the Colossians about in our reading today; this is the sort of empty thinking that left the Ephesians “without hope and without God. . .” until they encountered Christ. And—despite all of our advances as rational creatures in the 2,300 years since Gorgias' death—his is the sort of nihilistic thinking/believing that continues to poison our hearts and minds against the beauty of our redemption, against the truth and goodness of our renovated lives in Christ Jesus. What is the truth of our salvation? Paul writes, “For in [Christ] dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him. . .” 

If this is true (and it is), then it is fairly easy to see how the Church—as she goes about proclaiming the Good News—sets herself against the spirit of this age, sets herself against the wisdom and traditions of men, the seductive philosophies and empty thinking of this world. Let's break it down. The whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily in Christ. You and I were buried with him in baptism, a baptism in which we were also raised with him through faith in the power of God. And b/c we were buried with him and raised with him, we share in the fullness of the divine that dwells in him. Now, excuse my Mississippi English. . .but that ain't NOTHING, folks! It's not Nothing. But it's more than just something. It's everything. Because even when we were dead in our transgressions and in the uncircumcision of our flesh, he forgave us all our transgressions and brought us to life along with him. He brought us along with him. To life everlasting. . .he brought us along with him.

Yes, Christ brings us along, but we must follow. And we cannot follow Christ if we worship the twin idols of humanism and nihilism, if we practice the impossible religion of making man the measure of all things and at the same time believing that there are no existing things out there to measure! Those who gather around Jesus and the newly appointed apostles know that they need to touch the Christ; they know that he is the source of healing and cure for their diseases. Luke reports, “Everyone in the crowd sought to touch Jesus because power came forth from him and healed them all.” Power came forth from him. Virtus. Strength. Excellence. Vigor. The crowd knew his strength. They sought it out. And when they were healed, they went out as witnesses testifying to his power. Jesus gathered followers because he always spoke the truth, always radiated goodness and strength, and pointed always back to his Father as the Source of all life. If we are follow him to where he would bring us, we must do the same, rejecting the emptiness of this age's thinking, walking in him, rooted in him, built upon him and established in the faith, abounding always in thanksgiving!

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PoMo Christ & the Church

A few weeks back, I rec'd a request for a short reading list on postmodernist theory and its uses in Christian theology.  There are hundreds of books that tackle this subject.  Here are just a few in no particular order:

Myron Penner (ed.), Christianity and the Postmodern Turn:  Six Views.

Peter J. Leithart, Solomon Among the Postmoderns.

Millard J. Erickson,  Truth or Consequences:  The Promise and Perils of Postmodernism.

Graham Ward, The Postmodern God:  A Theological Reader(NB.  This is heavy-duty theology)

James A. K. Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.

Keep in mind that each book has its own bibliography. . .so, check these out as well. 

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Once again, the Inquisition of the Church of Global Warming gets its pound of flesh from a heretic. 

On how to deal with those Protestant ministers posing as Catholic priests in Austria. 

It's hard to find Good Goons these days. 

More on that New Tone in American politics.  Did you hear that big yawn from the MSM?

What Do Philosophers Believe?  (Well, who counts as a "philosopher" and what do you mean by "believe"?)  :-)  Just practicing. . .

I laughed at this. . .then realized that it's pretty dumb. . .and laughed again.

Dad needs to refresh his parenting skills. . .

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04 September 2011

The New Translation on this Side of the Pond

Catholics all over England and Wales started using the new English translation of the Mass yesterday.  

We followed along here at Blackfriars.  

Besides the stack of new books to juggle in the choir stalls and the occasional slip up with "And also with you," everything went well.  

One thing I noticed. . .for most of the Mass I was lost; that is, I kept having to stop and think about where we were in the liturgy.  All the familiar verbal cues were gone, so keeping track of where we were was a matter of actually concentrating on the content of what we were praying and not just the Cue Words. 

Another American friar visiting the priory noted that the text of the new translation sounds better when prayed in a posh Brit accent. . .so, maybe Americans should start practicing their Received Pronunciation!

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately.  I'll try to do better this week!

10 Things B.O. Should've Done Differently.  No. 11:  "Stayed in Chicago in 2008 and got a real job."

Vouchers free parents to abandon the union-infested classrooms of the public schools in IN.  Guess where they are going?  Catholic schools!

"Castle Doctrine" might be coming to a county in WI.  I agree with one commenter:  if you're in my house without permission, you're a threat.  This doesn't mean I would shoot you. . .it just means that I'm not legally obligated to run through a cost-benefit analysis of whether or not to shoot you.

Fascinating piece on the role of new social media in the Arab uprisings. . .

What will be "off the table" in the 2012 election? 

Wow. . .this captures my flying experiences perfectly!  The only thing I would add is a panel on sitting in the plane with no A/C for an hour in the Texas heat. 

Adding a little black & white fun to otherwise blah photos. . .I especially like the dinosaur one.

Dust Bunnies attack some poor guy's computer.  Evil, evil bunnies.

Hundreds of beautiful/disturbing/weird pics. . .some are R-rated. 

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