02 June 2012

Most holy mystery, Most Holy Trinity (Audio added)

Most Holy Trinity
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio from the 8.00am Sunday Mass

 The Most Holy Trinity is a Mystery. . .Catholics of a certain age will recall hearing the term “mystery” used to describe many of our essential beliefs. If you pray the rosary, you will hear the word “mystery” used to describe the events of Jesus' life—sorrowful, joyous, glorious, and luminous. What does the word “mystery” mean? Mystery conveys the idea that what is usually hidden from us has been revealed; that which is usually unreachable by us is put within our grasp; and that which is usually unknowable to us is made knowable. There are two essential elements in the Christian idea of mystery: 1). the truth of the mystery is always revealed, never found; and 2). the fullest understanding of the mystery comes only when we stand before the Lord face-to-face. Of all the mysteries that define our relationship with God, the Holy Trinity serves as the central mystery. The Catechism teaches that “[the Most Holy Trinity] is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the 'hierarchy of the truths of faith. . .'” (CCC 234). By what means do we unlock this mystery? How do we participate in the life of the Holy Trinity? 

Without hesitation, the Church proclaims the Holy Trinity to be a mystery. Incomprehensible, baffling, and curious. And even as she declares the ineffable nature of the Trinity, the Church exhausts every resource—philosophical, theological, and magisterial—to unlock the puzzle of the Divine Persons and to describe the mystery of the Godhead as Three-in-One. One God, three Persons. Three distinct Persons with one divine nature, one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What is knowable and known about the Holy Trinity is knowable and known as a gift, freely revealed by God Himself. Whether we come to know what we know by reason or faith, we know it because God wills that it be known and to the degree that He wills us to know it. Both reason and faith are gifts. Both lead to His truth. Both operate by His grace. And because we are limited creatures and receive His gifts imperfectly, both reason and faith are misshapen keys that cannot fit the lock that keeps the fullness of His mystery away from us. For us to know His mystery perfectly we must be perfected in the mystery; essentially, we must become the mystery in order to see Him face-to-face. This perfection requires more than curiosity, more than intellectual prowess, and more than pious determination. It requires us to suffer. 

Paul writes to Christ’s Church in Rome, no doubt telling them what all Christians at the time already knew by long experience. He writes that if we will become the children of God, co-heirs of His kingdom with Christ, “we [must] suffer with [Christ] so that we may also be glorified with him.” To look forward to glory with Christ in heaven, we must look no further than how we suffer with Christ right now. If we foolishly believe that heavenly glory comes without earthly suffering, we foolishly believe that we can go to the Father without Christ. We go to the Father with Christ by becoming Christ and to become Christ we must follow him along his suffering way. We bear a cross. We walk the way of sorrow. We are crucified in the flesh. And we cry out in despair even as we are given up for the love of our friends. If we want to know mystery, we must become mystery. When we stand away from Christ’s suffering, avoiding at any cost the troubles that come with dying and rising again with him, we return his gift unopened; and not only do we remain in ignorance of the mystery, we tempt spending our life eternal apart from his glory. 

But why believe the promise of eternal life in the first place? Why trust a promise made by an unseen god? Why should we come to understand our pain, our loss, and our mourning as necessary parts of God’s plan to make us His heirs? Moses challenges God’s people, saying: “Ask now of the days of old, […] Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live?” Even as they suffer in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, God speaks in fire and smoke to His people, showing them the way to their salvation. Even as they suffer, God is with them. Even as they suffer, God chooses them to be His people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. As a nation, they are His prophets and kings and for this they suffer. He takes them out of slavery and into the desert on a promise, on a covenant-oath never to abandon them, never to forsake them to final godlessness. In response to this gift, Moses acclaims, “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.” If this piece of the puzzle, this truth of the mystery is fixed in our hearts, a truth we now know, why do we shrink from suffering? 

Look at the disciples. Jesus orders them to a high mountain in Galilee. Matthew reports in his gospel that “when they all saw [Christ], they worshiped, but they doubted.” What did they doubt? Do they doubt the veracity of his teachings? Do they doubt their own strength? Their piety, their determination, their intellectual prowess? No! They doubt the true nature of the one who stands before them, freely offering them the Kingdom of his Father. Knowing the reason for their doubtful hearts, Jesus says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” With all the power of heaven and earth, Jesus fulfills the covenant as his Father promised He would. With all the power of heaven and earth, Jesus reveals the Father and His Son and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit. With the power of heaven and earth, Jesus sends his disciples out as apostles to baptize, to teach and preach, and to make disciples of the whole world. And these newly anointed apostles are to do all this in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in the name of the Triune Mystery; and as they preach and teach and baptize, they become more and more fully sons of God. They doubt no longer. 

When their Lord is arrested and convicted, scourged, crucified, and raised from the dead, the apostles testify their way to heaven: to glory through suffering, to the fullness of the mystery through earthly trial and persecution. And so they walked behind him with their crosses all the way to heaven. Each one teaches, preaches, makes disciples, and spends his life doing what Christ did so to become like Christ for those who would follow after them. We are those who follow after. And whether we suffer in small ways or grand, in jail or exile, at home or far away, so long as we do all things for the greater glory of God, Christ says to us, “[…]behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Therefore, our suffering can never be useless misery; it brings us nearer to the Triune Mystery we were made to adore, that we were made to become according to His will for us. 

Words and images, concepts and logic, ancient wisdoms and new, none approach the unapproachable light that blinds the holiest human eye. The glory of God at once seduces and repels, draws in and pushes out. And whether you are reeled in or run away reeling hangs on the clearest of Christian truths, one key truth: have you suffered as Christ suffered—for the love of your friends in name of the One Who made you? This key fits any lock, opens every door, lifts any lid. This key, the Key of David, the only Son of God, opens the treasure house of the Father’s Kingdom and makes us heirs to the fortunes of heaven. The Good News of salvation is that there is no chain so tight, no cell so strong, no sin so enslaving that the key of the cross cannot free us. Yes, we must suffer to follow Christ, to grow in mystery, to join him in his glory. But this no burden. It is a blessing. “[We] did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but [we] received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, "Abba, Father!’”

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01 June 2012

A wee bit of beggin'

Aight. . .I haven't begged for books in a while. . .mostly b/c I'm not in school anymore (Deo gratias!) and b/c I've not been teaching.  

Starting June 11th and going 'til Aug 2nd I'll be teaching in the archdiocese's catechists' certification program.  The texts for the classes I'm teaching are provided by the program. . .however, Teacher always needs a few extra volumes to stay ahead.

Sooooooo. . .check out the Wish List and see if the Spirit moves you to shoot a couple my way!  (Granted, not all of them are faith-related.  Ahem.)

My Book Benefactors have saved my meager library budget a lot of money and made it possible for me to complete my studies in Rome.  

Now, you can help me teach the teachers of Nawlins' so they can go out and teach our kids.

God bless, Fr. Philip Neri, OP

31 May 2012

Milestone, or millstone?

I hit a milestone today. . .an embarrassing one. . .

For the first time in seven years of being a priest, I forgot to celebrate a Mass.

I was supposed to celebrate an afternoon Mass at the Women's New Life Center in Metairie at 3.00pm.  

I blame the Devil, my entrance into dotage, and my over-caffeinated squirrel brain.

Mea culpa!

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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Visit upon the world the Lord's blessing!

Feast of the Visitation
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Elizabeth greets Mary in her home, blessing both the expectant virgin and her unborn child, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. . .Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!” Of course, she believed. Mary had been supernaturally prepared by the Holy Spirit to hear, receive, and assent to the Word. She was spared the ravages of original sin in her immaculate conception and given an audience with one of the Father's mightiest messengers, the archangel Gabriel. With all the humility and obedience proper to one whose soul is freed from sin, she stood in the reflected glory of the Lord's angel and said Yes to becoming the Mother of God. If the virgin girl, Mary, is blessed for believing that the Lord's word to her would be fulfilled, how blessed are we when we believe that the Lord's word to us will be fulfilled? With none of her spiritual advantages and without the benefit of an angelic announcement, how blessed are we when we believe that the Lord always makes good on His promises? 

Indeed, simply believing that the Lord will always fulfill His promises is a blessing in itself. But this blessing, as welcomed as it is, is given to us so that it might be worked into a grace capable of transforming not only a single soul but the spirit of a couple, a family, a parish, a nation, an entire people. The blessing of believing on the Lord's promises can bring about the conversion of the world only when those who have received it use it to help the world visit with the Lord. In other words, if we believe that the Lord makes good on His promises, then we must take this blessing out into the world—where we live, work, play—and put it to work for the salvation of souls. Mary—pregnant with the Word—visits Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John. This is the first time in history that a human person has brought the living God to visit another person. The two women visit in the presence of the Word becoming flesh. Elizabeth praises Mary for her faithfulness. John leaps for joy in his mother's womb. And Mary sings her servant-cantical, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” The Feast of the Visitation is the Church's annual reminder that we are flesh becoming the Word and we are vowed to visit the world with the blessings of the Father's promise. 

How do we do this? Paul gives us some solid spiritual advise in his letter to the Romans, “Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another. . .Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. . .Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. . .do not be haughty.” Love, serve, rejoice, endure, persevere, and bless. Be: zealous, fervent, hospitable, generous, sincere, and humble. This is how we take a blessing into the world and visit upon the world the blessings of the Lord. If we cannot or will not sing out with Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” then why should anyone in the world want to hear about the Lord's blessings? If our rejoicing is indistinguishable from despairing, and if our believing is no different from the world's, then why would anyone in the world leap for joy upon hearing about the Lord's blessing? We are blessed to believe in the Lord's promises. How much more blessed are we to visit His blessings upon a world starving for His saving Word?

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30 May 2012

Fisking the Vatican vs. Nuns Narrative

The following is an article posted on the Chicago Sun-Times site titled, "Priests come to nun's defense."  It's another hackjob along the Evil Vatican Bullies vs. Poor Helpless Nuns meme that the MSM is pushing.  My comments/questions are in red.

Father Leonard Dubi, a priest of 44 years, was one of two dozen men in Roman collars at St. Barbara’s Catholic Church on Sunday night. (Fr. Dubi was ordained in 1968.  There are about 1,530 priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago.  They rounded up all of 24.  That's fewer than 1%)

They were there to honor and support the embattled nuns of this country. (What embattled nuns?  I've heard that the CDF is trying to persuade the LCWR to return to the Catholic faith, but I'm not aware of any nuns being "embattled" by anyone.)

Even though it was Memorial Day weekend, even though plenty of people had been to church once already, and even though it was hot and steamy inside that old, beautiful, non-air conditioned church, about 150 came that night.  (There are 2,300,000 Catholics in the archdiocese.  They rounded up all of 150).

Nuns. Priests. Lay people.  (NB.  "Nuns" not "sisters."  Every sister I know will tell you right fast that she's not a nun.)

“We ran out of programs,” said Fr. Dubi by phone on Tuesday.  (How many did you print?)

These gatherings are happening all over the country (evidence?) as Catholics react to Rome’s attempt to reel in (snort) the Leadership Council of Women Religious, the umbrella organization that represents most religious sisters in this country. (By "represent" here she means something very different than what most of us think of when we use the word.  The LCWR is not representative of the rank and file sisters in the U.S.  What you do wanna bet that most U.S. sisters do not believe that they must "move beyond Christ" in order to be good Christians?)

The Vatican, in a scathing rebuke in April, appointed three bishops to “oversee” the women of LCWR. The sisters, in the view of the men who run the church, are too concerned about the poor and disenfranchised.  (She hasn't read the document.  There's nothing "scathing" about it. . .unless you consider truth-telling to be scathing.  The document explicitly lauds the ministries of sisters among the poor and disenfranchised, quoting JPII's praise of their efforts among the poor.) 

Not concerned enough about birth control, abortion and gay marriage. The orthodoxies that absorb the Curia.  (No.  The LCWR seems to be very concerned about contraception, abortion, and gay "marrriage."  They seem to be willing and able--even eager--to side with those who see these mortal sins are morally acceptable and even desirable.  The Curia is doing its job in making sure that Catholics tend to the proper formation of a good conscience.)

Many of the people in the pews see this as the last straw. (How many?) And are saying so. (Links?  Quotes?) And priests are giving voice to their own deep concerns. (Indeed, we are, but you aren't reporting them, choosing instead to echo B.O. administration talking-points and giving voice to the dissent of the Dinosaur Left.)

Fr. Dubi is the Chairman of the Association of Chicago Priests (ACP), which wrote a letter to the sisters. In it, the priests praise LCWR for being the living embodiment of the reforms of Vatican II. (No. They are the living embodiment of a ruptured interpretation of VC2, one that has exhausted its project and is now flailing about desperately seeking attention and relevance). And commend the sisters for being fearless in service “to the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, the forgotten, the rejected . . . the sick, the abandoned. . . .(Also noted and praised in the CDF document. . .and you'd know that if you had read it!) Perhaps (your mission) is too frightening to people and institutions accustomed to moving more slowly.”  (And what exactly is the LCWR and your association moving toward so quickly, Father?  It's not 1968 anymore.  You and the LCWR are moving backwards.)

Like Rome? Which was egregiously slow to outrage as wave after wave of priest-predator scandals broke but quick to reproach the women who have not brought scandal upon the Church. Does the Vatican truly believe this nun-offensive will fly? (Insert irrelevant and utterly gratuitous poke at the bishops over the abuse scandal.  So, b/c the bishops failed miserably in their duty to police their clergy, the LCWR is granted a free pass on promoting dangerous heresy and misleading Catholics about the faith?  What about the LCWR's refusal to address victims abused by sisters?  Why are they excused from exercising the virtue of transparency?)

Apparently so.

But reaction is building. (Where? Links? Quotes? Names? Numbers?) And it is helping the Association of Chicago Priests to re-discover itself. (Aaaahhhhh, so now I understand the real motivation for the ACP's support of the poor helpless nuns).  And its once-strong voice.  (Loud is not the same as strong).

The ACP was born out of conflict during the era of Cardinal John Cody, who didn’t value dialogue with the women and men religious who worked in the Archdiocese. (Meaning, he didn't look forward to being lectured to and screamed at by dissidents.) But then came Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, who valued collegiality. (Meaning, he sat quietly while the dissidents lectured and screamed).  And there wasn’t much need for the organization any more. (And there's no "need" for it now. . .except, of course, that all special interest political groups "need" themselves and so invent their own relevance.)

Now Fr. Dubi and the ACP are joining a national movement, forming the Association of U.S. Catholic priests. (Which will no doubt be jammed packed with fresh young faces eager to Fight the Man, or something!) Its first meeting will be in St. Leo, Fla., on June 11-14.

“If we can get 10 percent of priests who are ordained (as opposed to those priests who aren't ordained?), who would come together, who would have a part of this collective voice, we can begin to speak with authority,” said the 69-year-old Fr. Dubi.  (You can speak with your own authority. . .whatever that might be.  The only real authority in the Church to speak authentically on issues of morals and faith is the magisterium and that authority is exercised by the bishops in communion with the Holy Father.  And, if I'm not mistaken, he thinks you're wrong).

What will they say?  (Not much that we haven't heard a billion times already:  ordain women, drop celibacy, elect bishops, blah-blah-blah.  IOW, they will say, "We demand that the Catholic Church become Protestant!)

“We love the Church,” (No.  You love that portion of the Church that does your will), he told me in a previous conversation. “But in the modern church, in the current ‘reform of the reform’, we don’t have real discussion of things. It’s all top down. There are no interdependent voices.”  (You're right.  We should use the model your generation used when discussing the removal of altar rails; the implementation of the '73 missal translation; the modernist destruction of our immigrant Catholic heritage in architecture; the destruction of our Catholic tradition of sacred music; the overthrow of our Catholic theological tradition in exchange for goofy pop-psychology, trendy sociology, and New Age junk spirituality; and the model you guys used for emptying the seminaries and convents worked wonders!)

But that, it seems, is changing.  (Oh, it's changing alright. . .just not in the direction you are hoping for. . .)

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The blood, sweat, and tears of divine love. . .

8th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Brothers and sisters, this is the Word that has been proclaimed to you: “All flesh is like grass, and all the glory of the flesh is like the flowers in the field; grass withers and flowers wilt; but the word of the Lord remains forever.” Peter quotes Isiah, highlighting the difference between the perishable things that cannot save us and the imperishable Word who has already saved us. We were not ransomed from our slavery to sin by money, food, medicine, or temple sacrifices but by the precious blood of Christ, freely given on the altar of the Cross. By listening to that Word, by obeying his Word of truth, we are cleansed of sin and made ready to love one another intensely. Peter writes, “You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed through the living and abiding word of God. . .” Our chance at a new birth arrived in blood, sweat, and tears. As a person born again, born anew, do you live your days and nights intensely loving, sincerely in love with, God and His family of adopted children? 

Jesus admonishes James and John for seeking after prestige as his disciples. He tells them that those who want to come first must come last in his kingdom. Why? Because, he says, “. . .the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Christ completed his mission among us when he ransomed our lives with his on the Cross, the imperishable Word in exchange for perishable man. What does this exchange accomplish? What does it make possible? Christ sacrifice extends “once for all,” once to all, an invitation to participate in the divine life, to take part in the adventure of holiness. He makes it possible for anyone, once again to approach the glory of the Father freed from sin, made just in the mercy of God. He gives every opened eye and ear a Way out of darkness, a Way out of useless pain and anxiety. He takes into the Holy Family any man, woman, or child of any race, any tribe, any people, and makes them children of His Father, co-heirs to eternal life. When Christ dies on the Cross and rises from the tomb, he shows all of the creation exactly what divine love looks like. And he makes it possible for his brothers and sisters—in his name and for his sake—to love one another so the world might see that he abides among us still. 

As a person born again, born anew, do you live your days and nights intensely loving, sincerely in love with, God and His family of adopted children? Our chance at a new birth did not arrive without blood, sweat, and tears, so why should living as a newly born child of God not require a little blood, a few drops of sweat, and lots of tears? Think of those you have the most difficulty loving. What prevents you from loving them as Christ loves them? Why won't you serve them as Christ serves you? Are they less deserving of his mercy than you? Are their sins greater than yours? We have been cleansed from our sin by obedience to the truth; therefore, love intensely, sincerely, with great abandon, and without price. Our pride, our anger, our jealousy can never outweigh the feather-light mercy that Christ won for us. So why load ourselves up with the burden of perishable junk like prejudice, revenge, hurt feelings? Here's a secret: all that rotting trash you love to carry around. . .it isn't yours! It belongs to the Enemy, but he is more than happy to let you carry it right to his front door. Don't do it. You don't have to. The Word has been proclaimed to you: “You have been born anew from imperishable seed, the living word of God.” 

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Fisking the media narrative:  Evil Vatican Bullies vs. Poor Helpless Nuns.

Two views on The Sisters.  The MSM is living in the 1950's on this issue.

He didn't have an argument for a first term. . .why should he have one for a second?

Catholic Democrat defects to the GOP. . .not that the GOP fully embraces Catholic social teaching.

The empty spiritual calories of modern heresies.  There is no new heresy under the sun.

The Tiresomeness of Maureen Dowd.  M.D. is what happens when reason is clouded by passion.


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Wednesday Fat Report (+2)

OK.  I gained two pounds:  326.

This is actually a relief.  After a week on retreat with three full meals a day and lots of snacks AND four birthdays in the priory within the month. . .a two pound gain is a blessing!

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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29 May 2012

Gettin' holy ain't for sissies!

NB.  Normally, I'm off on Tuesday's.  Fr. Mike and I switched days-off, so here's today's homily from 2010.

8th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

There's a bumper sticker popular among our older citizens: “Gettin' old ain't for sissies!” Aging is a long haul. It's hard work. It take courage, perseverance, and strength. Chances are that those who lack the required virtues for “gettin' old” never make it past retirement age. They falter long before the really tough stuff begins. Catholics, never shy about using what we're given to preach the gospel, should take this bumper sticker and revise it to teach another ancient truth: “Gettin' holy ain't for sissies!” All the virtues required for enduring old age come in quite handy for traveling the way of holiness. Standing up to the rulers of this world; confronting one's own demons; and coming out victorious, requires courage, perseverance, and strength. Despite the dangers of aging, many manage to do well enough without ever receiving all that God has to give them. No such thing is possible in our travels toward holiness. Peter writes, “. . .as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy because I am holy.” 

 The saints and doctors of the Church teach us that we are made to be holy. We are designed in such a way that we are not only capable of being holy but are, in fact, compelled to seek out holiness. Why then do we find being holy so difficult? Why do we expend so much time and energy fighting against who we were made to be? Peter gives us a hint when he teaches us how to be holy: “. . .gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” If these are the things we must do to grow in holiness, then it makes sense that our resistance to being holy rests in our failure to follow through with this admonition. The creativity and productivity of our minds is scattered, loose, unfocused. Our daily lives show us to be immoderate, irrational, anxious. And we have set our hopes on the fleeting goodness of people, ideas, and institutions who are in themselves incapable of making us Good. If we fail to understand that God is the only source of holiness, then we are doomed to falter long before the way before us gets really tough. God says, “Be holy because I am holy.” 

Being holy, like growing old, is hard. We have to grow old. No choice in that. But do we have to be holy? If it's so difficult, why bother? First, we are called to it. Drawn to God by His love for us, we are seduced into wanting to be perfect as He Himself is perfect. Without the desire for holiness, we are just animals, creatures eating, breeding, and dying without a purpose larger than our biology. Second, by accepting the graces of baptism and the Holy Spirit, we are shown who we are (sinners) and who we can be (saints). To endure the difference between the two without seeking to close the gap is unbearable. Third, as St Augustine says, we are restless—agitated, unhappy, aimless—until we rest in Him. Seeing that we are capable of being like God, can we ever be truly satisfied with being like anything less than God? 

Peter says to Christ, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Surrender is the first step and the last step. But the steps in between must also follow Christ. With hearts and minds focused on Christ; our lives lived in the sobriety of his commandment of love; and our hope resting solely in the one revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, we can surrender everything unholy and become holy for no other reason than that He is holy. For those who love him, this is reason enough.

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Homiletic challenge

I've asked for feedback on my recent homilies and HA readers have responded with enthusiasm!  

Here's another request:  give me a homiletic challenge; in other words, challenge me to compose a homily that you would enjoying hearing preached, or one that you need to hear preached.

This could be a topic/issue or a scripture passage or a doctrine of the faith, etc.

I just might accept your challenge!

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28 May 2012

If your goal is eternal life. . .

8th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Look far ahead, down the road, and off in the distance. . .do you see a goal for yourself? Do you see what it is or who it is that you are pursuing? Are you being led, or are you giving chase? Make no mistake, whether we know it or not, we are all closing in on an end point. Most are stumbling toward it. Some are strolling casually. A few are even sprinting wildly. That we all have an end point is a fact. We give it different names, use different euphemisms: passing, “gone to a better place,” “dirt nap,” “giving up the ghost,” death. The separation of body and soul is a hard constant of being alive. No one escapes. But death is not a goal. A goal is something to be achieved, something to be worked toward. Accomplishing a goal is not a given; we can fail to complete a goal. What goal are you striving toward? Are you being led to achievement, or are you trying to go it alone? Peter teaches us that the goal of faith is the salvation of our souls; that is, the reason for believing, the purpose of trusting in God is to save our immortal souls. Quoting the rich young man, “. . .what must [we] do to inherit eternal life?” 

The rich young man clearly sees his goal: eternal life. Will he be led to it, or will he chase after it? Since he's asking the Good Teacher how he might inherit eternal life, we can assume that he's willing to be led. Jesus shows him the Way: obey the Commandments and detach yourself from the things of this world. The young man eagerly volunteers his obedience to the Commandments, but when Jesus tells him to sell all his goods and give them to the poor, Mark reports that “his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” So much for being led to the goal of eternal life. With so many possessions to tend to and so many responsibilities to shoulder, the young man chooses to chase after the goal of eternal life. And he will chase that goal alone. Being wealthy in no way disqualifies the young man from entering heaven. What disqualifies him is his attachment to wealth. It loads him down, it fills him up. With all his riches, with all his obligations there is no room in his heart for the treasures of God's kingdom. He has much and more anchoring him to the world of things, the smallish things of a smallish world which too soon fade away. Eternal life is inherited by those who will be led, unattached from the passing away of things. 

Showing exemplary compassion, Jesus laments, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples are “exceedingly astonished” at his outburst and wonder who then can be saved. Jesus says, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” What exactly is impossible for men but not impossible for God? It is impossible for wealthy men to enter the kingdom alone, by themselves, but God can lead them there if they will be led. But to be led, they must come to believe and trust fully in the providence of God. So must we all. We cannot serve two Masters. If our goal is eternal life, then we serve the one Master who can lead us there, and serving Him means abandoning all other attachments. The only other choice is to serve our possessions and chase after eternal life on our own. As the adopted children of the Father through Christ, we are heirs to the kingdom He has bequeathed to us. To lay claim to our inheritance, we must cease loving things more than we love Him. He is the source and summit, Love Himself, and loving Him first makes all other loves possible. Chasing after temporary things leads to a permanent death. Be led by His love so that you may inherit eternal life. 

Give me some feedback in the combox!  Good, bad, ugly. . .

Feedback, please!

Before heading off to Texas last week, I made a cryptic comment about my homilies being BLAH lately and said that a retreat would help to make them better.

Well, the retreat helped me to think through why I think my homilies have been BLAH lately. 

I started this blog in Nov of 2005 for two reasons:

1). as a convenient way to distribute the homilies when asked for a copy;

2). and as a way for Normal Catholic Folks to give me feedback.

These reasons still stand.

Therefore, I need some feedback:  what's working?  What's not working?  Helpful?  Distracting? Annoying?  Good, bad, ugly?  What do you want to read/hear more about in the homilies?  Less?  I'm tough. . .so don't flinch from telling the truth as you see it.

Please, let this be heard loud and clear:  I am NOT fishing for compliments!  

Of course, every preacher on the planet likes compliments, but if these homilies are going to be of any use to anyone, they need to be reviewed in terms of the what homilies are supposed to be--proclamations of the Word for the spiritual growth of the People of God. 

Many of you have written to confess that you do not feel qualified to comment on a priest's homily.  I understand your reluctance; however, remember that we all receive the Spirit as we need Him and we use our spiritual gifts accordingly.  We all have the right to good preaching so that our gifts may be properly understood and used for the benefit of others.

So, what say you?

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27 May 2012

Zombie Apocalypse. . .it's here!

I've been warning y'all for YEARS that the Zombie Apocalypse was coming. . .


Sharpen your chainsaw machetes and stock up on rice and beans.

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Burdened to breaking by the Truth

(NB.  I wrote this homily in June of 2009 while living in Rome.  Since it was never preached, I thought I'd give it a try this morning. . .P.S. this version has been slightly edited b/c the 2009 version was too long.)

Pentecost Sunday: Acts 2.1-11; 1 Cor 12.3-13; John 15.26-27, 16.12-15
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

How much truth can we bear? How much before we break? If you read sci-fi/fantasy novels, you know that one of the staples of these fictional worlds is the notion that there is a truth, an arcane stock of wisdom that only a few can access, that only the truly gifted can call upon when necessary. There is always a price to be paid for knowing more than one ought to and for knowing anything at all about what one should not know. The price is sometimes physical, sometimes mental; sometimes the price is paid with one’s humanity. With one’s life. And the sacrifice is not always triumphant. Sometimes knowing more only leads to more confusion, additional puzzles, greater obstacles. How much truth is too much? When does “bearing up under” the truth become a burden worthy of a cross?

To his friends and students, Jesus promises to send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit who will comfort them in their trials and give them a sure defense against malicious persecution. Because his disciples have been with him from the beginning, he says that they will testify to the truth of his gospel and that the Advocate will testify along with them. Then Jesus says something rather odd; he says, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” Is Jesus playing Arcane Master here? Gnostic Guru? What truth does he have to tell that the disciples cannot bear? The disciples have shown themselves to be less than stellar pupils at times. They have fussed about petty marks of prestige among themselves. And we know that when the Judas’ plan comes to fruition in the Garden, these best-buds will run squealing like rabbits into the night. But what truth, what “much more to tell” will break the disciples? Jesus adds, “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” What truth? Details of his’ trial and execution? A prophecy about future persecutions? Some apocalyptic end-time scenario? No. When the Spirit comes, he will guide us to all truth. The Spirit has come. What is revealed?

(Imagine a chilly spring night in Jerusalem, the dark is almost total, only a few stars blink at the earth. From the horizon on the east blazes a meteor, a fist of fiery spirit, a knot of tightly bound love, streaking with undeterred purpose toward the upper room. At the moment of deepest despair, greatest regret, the most intense impatience for the disciples, the meteor smashes into the room and explodes in a thunderous clap, piercing the bodies and souls of the men and women in the room, whipping their spirits clean, sending them all into an ecstasy that overwhelms thought, speech, spirit, motion, and leaves them, each one, ablaze like a star stuttering to its full brilliance…).

The Catechism teaches, “On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of the Promise was poured out on the disciples […] The Spirit who teaches the Church and recalls for her everything that Jesus said was also to form her in the life of prayer” (n. 2623). Perhaps more than any other day of the Church calendar, Pentecost marks our longest distance from fear. Easter comes close. But Pentecost brings us into direct contact with the questions: what do I fear as a follower of Christ? What prison have I locked myself in? What darkness have I protected from the cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit? Pentecost raises these questions for us precisely because it is the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost that gives birth and rebirth to the Church, the Body of Christ on earth. At the most intense moment of persecution, on the cusp of the Church’s birth, the disciples are ruled by terror; they are fragile, steeped in dread. The Holy Spirit explodes in their midst…and everything is changed forever.

They have locked themselves away in fear and by fear they are ruled. The walls of their chosen prison give them comfort. They know where they are, who they are; they know who is outside, and who it is that hunts them and why. To the temple priesthood, they are heretics. To the Roman governor, they are rebels. They have offended God in His sanctuary and Caesar in his court; they are hiding from the clergy of an ancient religious tradition and from the foot soldiers of the world’s only military superpower. They are menaced soul and body.

From within their self-imposed prison—the easy safety of walls and familiar company—the beloved of the crucified Lord tremble in terror, waiting on the wrath of God’s priests and the punishments of Caesar’s troops. Some of them may have remembered a promise Jesus made before his death. And though it has been several weeks since he died in the garbage dump outside Jerusalem, that promise comes back in a whispered memory, just a hint of hope sprinkled in among the fear and desperation of those who keep themselves prisoner. If they gird themselves, put their eyes to heaven, and remember! They will remember: “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.” When the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, comes…he will testify to the truth as the Truth. There is nothing to fear in the truth though for now the whole truth may burden you. Turn the key of your cell door and walk away to freedom. Your wait is over. Walk away from fear and toward the Truth—away from loss, toward everlasting gain! What fear guards your cell door? What terror keeps that door locked?

Into the locked room where the disciples hid, the Holy Spirit, like a furious bonfire—ripping through fear and doubt, burning away indecision, cowardice, spiritual torpor, putting to the sacred torch of truth any and all motivation for hesitancy, complacency, and double-mindedness—the Holy Spirit roared in among them, setting to each a flame that unstuck their tongues, that unlocked their imprisoned hearts, and set them free! This is the heritage of the Spirit that we lay claim to. We are heirs to this strength, this purpose. They spill into the street, preaching God’s truth in every tongue. Where is their fear? Where is their hesitancy? They are wholly given over to Him! And because of their fervor, their dedication and exuberance, and because they spoke the Word so plainly and without embarrassment, they were killed. Not all of them. Just those so far gone in the Spirit that nothing of this world was left in them to threaten.

Is this the burden that Jesus did not want to load onto the disciples too early? Is this the truth that he feared might break them? The coming of the Spirit sparked the glory of the Church in the upper room, giving birth to the Body of Christ as the engine of grace in the world. Set ablaze in holy love, the disciples flee into the streets, spreading God’s holy fire everywhere they run, seeding tinder-dried hearts with embers ready to burst into flame. They are contagious. From heart to heart, from mind to mind, they spread out and plant the Word, scattering seed, rowing up fields for the Church! “Bearing up under” the truth of the gospel, the work of evangelization, is a burden for us. Is it a burden worthy of a cross? Yes, it is.

Inevitably, the truth of the gospel will clash with the lies of the world. At first, the world will draw back in astonished amusement, mildly shocked that someone, anyone would challenge its power. Then, when mockery fails to diminish the fervor of the Church, the world will react with increasing anger and violence. And, like the early persecutions of the Church by the Empire, the Church will be cast as an enemy of the state, a threat to moral liberty, and a tumor on the body of good order. As an intolerant cult that refuses to honor the diversity and difference that makes western culture so wonderful, we will be found guilty of refusing to worship the demons of elitist ideology and labeled “intolerant bigots,” “Taliban Catholics,” and “domestic terrorists.”

We are charged by the Holy Spirit to finish telling the truth of the gospel. If that truth burdens us to breaking, then we break burdened by the gospel truth: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” And, if necessary, we suffer and die preaching the Spirit.

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