08 September 2012

Stand Strong & Do Not Fear!

23rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

Hear God's promise. If your heart is weary and your mind confused: Stand strong; do not be afraid! Here is your God! The Lord, He comes to our defense. With justice, with divine restitution, He comes to heal all our afflictions, rescue us from all our foes. Then, will the eyes of the blind see and the ears of the deaf hear. Then, will the beaten and bruised find shelter and the hungry recline to feast. Then, will the tongue of the mute sing and the innocent find protection. Rivers will freely flow in the wastelands, and springs will water the deserts. Thus says the Lord to His prophet, Isaiah. And thus, do we—the adopted children of God the Father; brothers and sisters in His Son; and heirs to the Kingdom through His Holy Spirit—lay claim to this promise and bear faithful witness: the Lord God fulfills His promises and has done so in Christ Jesus. Our ears are open and our tongues set free. We see clearly and speak the truth. Nothing and no one frightens us. As the one body of Christ—living in the world but not of it—we are servants of God and stewards of His mysteries. So, if your heart is weary and your mind confused: Stand strong and do not be afraid! 

We need to this reminder of God's promise of salvation b/c underneath Isaiah's prophesy of renewal is a potentially crippling reality: fear and confusion—if left to fester—will deafen us to the Lord's word and still our tongues in speaking His truth. That Isaiah is given this prophecy is evidence enough that God's people are edging toward spiritual deafness and silence. And it's fear that's pushing them. Amidst every human failure and flaw we can list—war, famine, poverty, political and religious oppression—right in the center of every disaster writhes the dark spirit of fear. Fear drains away hope and attacks faith; it lifts up disorder and discord as the exclusive and inevitable finish-line for being alive. What does the spirit of fear want us to believe about ourselves and our world? To thrive in the hearts and minds of God's creatures, fear must convince us that we are wholly subject to the random workings of a universe w/o purpose; that we are nothing more than the most highly evolved animals currently occupying a delicate fly-speck planet in a fly-speck galaxy; that even as we live and move among six billion other highly evolved animals, we are, in the end, completely alone. And more than all of these combined, fear must convince us that in our aloneness, we are nothing. 

We need Isaiah's reminder of God's promise of salvation b/c fear does its best work when we surrender to the lie that we are nothing. Our philosophers and theologians have given this lie a name, Nihilism. Nihil is the spirit of nothingness, a devil that can possess a single soul, a family, a nation; and it drives one and all to embrace existence w/o meaning or purpose. French novelist and philosopher, Albert Camus, asks the ultimate nihilist question, “Why not commit suicide?” If you are a random genetic accident, an animal who just happens to think, and your life is nothing more than pain and suffering, why not skip to the inevitable end and kill yourself? Nihil speaks the language of despair fluently and sometimes persuasively. In fact, if you close your ears to God's word and refuse to speak His truth, you begin the process of learning Nihil's preferred way of speaking, phrases like “product of conception,” “termination of pregnancy,” “painless expiration,” “acceptable collateral damage,” and “capital justice.”* When you become comfortable using Nihil's voice, you have been emptied of hope, and bereft of faith. Love—God's own life-giving presence in each of us and among us—is abandoned. And what do we get in exchange? Not hate. Not anger. We get Fear. 

He couldn't hear, couldn't speak. Jesus takes him away from the crowd and ministers to his closed ears and his locked up tongue. “Be opened!” And the man hears and speaks, and the crowd is exceedingly astonished. Jesus orders them to keep quiet about the miracle, but the more he insists on their silence, the more they witness to his power, “He has done all things well.” They could not be silent about this miracle of hope. They would not be silent about the awesome power of a loving God. Nor can we. Our silence now is a vanity, a luxury. We cannot afford to pretend that we do not hear God's promise to Isaiah, “Here is your God, He comes with vindication!” We cannot afford the social privileges and cultural power that our collective silence buys us. We cannot hide behind modesty, “tolerance,” or the dubious benefits of accommodation. Jesus frees the poor man's ears so that he might hear. And he frees his tongue so that he might speak. Whether or not he will listen and speak, whether or not he will put these gifts to work for the sake of Christ is his choice. Nihil is at work on him already, encouraging the man's disobedience and silence. And he is constantly at work on us as well. 

Thus, we hear Isaiah prophesy, “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” And we hear Jesus say to the man who cannot hear or speak, “Be opened!” And we hear the Psalmist sing, “Praise the Lord, my soul!/The God of Jacob keeps faith forever; He secures justice for the oppressed. . .” We heard and we hear. But do we listen, and do we speak? Through all the white noise and violence at us thrown by Nihil and his servant, Fear, do we listen and do we speak? If our hearts are frightened and our minds confused, then listening is not only difficult but probably impossible. If we do not listen to God's word, how can we speak His word? And if we are unwilling to speak, to give witness to His power in our own lives, how will anyone else hear Him speak? God says to us, “Be strong and do not fear!” It's not our own strength that we rely upon. It's not our own words that move hearts and minds toward Him. In that moment of crisis—physical or spiritual—that instant of emergency, it is the Holy Spirit who stands us up and gives us the words we need to speak. This is why there is nothing and no one for us to fear. 

So, how do we conquer fear and clear our minds? A good start to answering this question is to remember God's promise and keep our eyes squarely focused on where we are headed. Of course, we must pay attention to where we are at the moment, but everything we say and do in the moment is given its meaning, its purpose by our final destination. Nihil would have us believe that our end is nothingness. Fear pushes us to panic and passion. As the world around us swirls the bowl, we swirl along with it: we're in it but not of it. With our hearts and minds wholly owned and operated by the Holy Spirit, we believe—we know—that nothingness is not our end. Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in the coming of the Christ. And we are his brothers and sisters. Not random collections of thinking genetic material. Not cosmic accidents just eating and breathing 'til we drop dead. But children of a loving God who promises a restoration, a renewal in His mercy. That's the Good News that we must share and share often. Therefore, stand strong and do not be afraid!

* A very attentive parishioner brought to my attention that this sentence appears to draw a moral equivalence btw abortion and capital punishment.  I disagree.  The plain language of the sentence indicates that I am talking about how nihilism encourages us to use sterile, medical, or high-minded terms for what is basically killing.  There is no mention of the relative moral status of the related acts described.  My point is that nihilists' want us to use language that strips killing of all teleological sense.   Besides, there is no moral equivalence btw abortion and capital punishment.
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07 September 2012

Stewards & Fools

22nd Week OT (F): Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Paul has spent this week surprising us with his take on the difference btw being “wise in the world” and “foolish for God.” Just yesterday he told us, “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” For the followers of Christ, salvation depends on becoming increasingly foolish—as the world sees it. And looking around the internet and cable news, it's clear that the world sees us as Big Fools Only Getting Bigger. From their perspective—atheist, materialist, secular, nihilistic—it's easy to see why Christians in the 21st century would look foolish. We believe all sorts of bizarre things: the existence of angels, saints, miracles, God; the efficacy of sacraments; the intelligibility of truth; objective moral standards; the natural law. Just weird stuff like that. This is why Paul's description of Christ's 1st century followers in Corinth should ring particularly true for us today: “Brothers and sisters: we should be regarded as the servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” 

We know what it means to be “servants of Christ.” Serving Christ means serving the least among his people, both the materially poor and the spiritually poor. As we have already heard this week: proclaiming the Gospel is doing the Gospel. Word and deed, faith and works. Done for the greater glory of God, there is no difference btw the two. But what does it mean for us to be “stewards of God's mysteries”? In Paul's day, stewards were usually slaves, educated slaves who managed the household of his owner. He was in charge of the other slaves; responsible for shopping, accounts, payroll. In the absence of the owner, the steward was the de facto Head of Household. When Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter, he is making Peter his steward, his vicar. Peter and his successors become the ones who manage, administer Christ's Church on earth until he returns. More than anything else in the Church, Christ's steward “manages” the mysteries that bring us closer to God, the sacraments. But what does it mean for you to be a steward of the mysteries? This is where we become better fools for God. 

While the Church has her ordained ministers to manage the sacraments, what mysteries do her lay members manage? The first and greatest mystery that needs careful lay management is one's faith. Faith is the good habit of trusting in God's providence, His loving-care. For a habit to remain a habit, it must be exercised, worked-out—vigorously. This means setting aside, willfully pushing aside, all anxiety about the future. It means setting free the obsessive need to control people and events, to make sure that you get your way. It also means believing w/o empirical evidence, or persuasive argument. Faith never utters the phrases, “Show me” or “Prove it” when it comes to the will of God. In this world, faith is pure foolishness, the greatest foolishness. We are an evidence-based, outcomes-driven culture that demands empirical, verifiable, repeatable results. Faith sees and hears the world with the mind of Christ. The world's wisdom teaches us that we are nothing but our bodies. Faith teaches us—through the dual lenses of enduring hope and sacrificial love—that we are made perfect (body and soul) in Christ. The world fears its limits, loathes its finitude, and works tirelessly to gather to itself any and everything it can to stall annihilation. Faith knows that nothing gathered here will last, nothing won here will bring final victory. As the wise of the world wail against our foolishness, remember: we are stewards of the mysteries of God, His faithful servants, His hard-headed slaves.
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Coffee Cup Browsing (en breve)

Dem convention officials refuse non-political gift baskets from local churches.  These people really just don't get it do they?

Court Prophetess tells the screaming pro-abort mob exactly what it wants to hear. 

"All chair, no substance." Something Really Important and Unprecedented was suppose to happen last night.  [crickets]

Is the Church 200 yrs "out of date"?  Probably.  But the Gospel is eternal and therefore dateless!

When you've tried everything else. . .pray.  (Hint:  you probably shouldn't pray for a schism though).

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06 September 2012

05 September 2012

Scary: We are co-workers with God. . .

22nd Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Paul writes to the Corinthians, revealing to them one of the scariest truths I've ever heard, “. . .we are God's co-workers; [. . .] God's building. . . .” Upon being reminded of this scary truth, my first thought is, “No, no. I'm one of His more difficult building projects. Over budget, behind schedule, and poorly maintained.” But then it dawns on me that God will not build me w/o me; He will not remove my freedom to participate willingly in my own construction. When and where I fail, I fail to work with God's divine blueprint. How do I get back on schedule, on budget, and well-maintained? Jesus cures Simon's mother-in-law. Others with various illnesses came to him and “he laid his hands on each of them and cured them.” So impressed were the crowds that “they tried to prevent him from leaving them.” But Jesus was sent for another reason. He says to them, "To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. . .” When did he proclaim the Good News in this town? He didn't preach or teach. There were no reported debates. So, how exactly did he proclaim the Good News? “He laid his hands on each of them and cured them.” 

If you too are over budget, behind schedule, and poorly maintained as a building project of the Lord, let me suggest a possible reason for your decrepitude: you have made too much of the difference btw “proclaiming the Good News” and “doing the Good News.” I mean, you have either placed Being a Christian over Working as Christian or Working as a Christian over Being a Christian. Simply being as a Christian is well and good. But where are your works? What legacy of charitable action do you leave behind? How much real, living hope have you sown? Simply working as a Christian is well and good also. But where do you place your trust? Why are you working so hard for the poor, the oppressed, the sick? Are you more than a religiousy social worker? In our gospel this evening, Jesus shows us that proclaiming the Good News is doing the Good News. Not simply saying stuff about the gospel but actually working in mercy, charity, and hope. And none of this is possible if we do not acknowledge and celebrate the Christ as our Lord, One to Whom we are obedient. The foundational motivation for all gospel labor must be to give glory to God so that His mercy to sinners may be made evident, plain as day. Every act of gospel labor is precisely an act of gospel labor b/c it is done for the sake for Christ. 

If you are a faithful soul, a thoroughly convicted believer in the Gospel and you are still struggling with persistent sin, dry in prayer, consider this: you aren't working with God to build a better you. If you are a zealous defender of the oppressed, a totally committed activist for justice and you still find yourself frustrated, angry, depressed by failure, consider this: you aren't trusting God, not giving Him the glory through Christ. Catholics can rattle off the phrase “word and deed” faster than most of us can blink. But do we hear what we are saying? The revelation of God in Christ Jesus is given to us in and through his words and in and through his deeds.* Not one OR the other. Both. With ears to hear, we listen to his teaching. With eyes to see, we watch his behavior. What does Jesus say? What does Jesus do? Being a follower of Christ and working as a follower of Christ is always, always about the gospel word-deed. An act done with God. With God an act done. More than His projects, we are fellow project managers. We are co-workers with God for His glory. 

* "This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having in inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation" (Dei verbum 2).
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Coffee Cup Browsing

Taxpayer funded abortion on-demand, same-sex "marriage," and God deleted.  Dems are off to a great start!

Oh, and we belong to the Gov't.  Had no idea.

An atheist schism?  Well, fundamentalists are known for splitting off into factions.

B.O.'s definition of sin.  Wow.  You can't get more Baby Boomer than that.

Just how Pro-Life is Mitt?

Self-anointed "Messiah" dies.   Or did he. . .?  Hmmmmmm. . .

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03 September 2012

A question for my tech-enhanced readers. . .

UPDATE:  Problem solved.  I threatened my laptop with an exorcism and now the little "Sign In" thingie is back where it's supposed to be.  Go figure.  Thanks for the suggestions!


Up until yesterday I could sign into my blogger account from the blog itself.  The little "Sign In" link was on the top right hand side of my browser window.  Now, it's gone.  

Today, I went to my office and clicked on the blog and the little "Sign In" thing was right where it was supposed to be.

So, why does it appear on my office computer but not my laptop?  
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A lifetime acceptable to the Lord

St. Gregory
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Have you ever had an ancient prophecy fulfilled in your hearing? I haven't; at least, I don't think I have. Wouldn't there be thunder or bells or a flashes of light? Some physical wonder to mark the occasion? When Jesus announces that Isaiah's messianic prophecy has been fulfilled in the hearing of those present, there's not much to mark the event. No angels or raging wind or fiery words written across the sky. Jesus reads the prophecy, rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down. The others stare at him for a minute or two and then Jesus says, almost casually, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” You almost expect him to ask for a cup of tea. The fireworks don't start until after he is challenged to prove his claim. Those in the synagogue don't want a rational argument or scriptural proof-texting. They want physical evidence. Jesus really riles them up when he reminds them of a time in their people's history when idolatry and the rejection of the prophets gave God reason to send His miracles to the Gentiles. Well, that's too much for these folks. They run Jesus out of town. What he really needed in the synagogue that morning was some showmanship! Or maybe just a crowd ready to hear a prophecy fulfilled. 

 To understand exactly what Jesus laying claim to we need to look at Isaiah's prophecy more closely. So, let's break it down. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. . .” Here Jesus is saying outright that he is the Anointed One of the Lord. “Messiah” and “Christ” both mean “Anointed One.” He is possessed by the Spirit of the Lord in virtue of having been anointed. Why has he been sent? “. . .to bring glad tidings to the poor.” Who are the poor? In other parts of the Gospels, the poor are the “poor in spirit” and “the humble.” He's certainly talking about the destitute, but the broader category here is “those in spiritual poverty.” Jesus is not announcing the start of a socio-economic revolution. His is a spiritual revolution fought in the flesh. We know this b/c he elaborates, “[The Lord] has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. . .” All metaphors couched in more or less physical terms, indicating a release from spiritual bondage. We are captives of the Devil; blinded by ignorance, and oppressed by sin. He here's to free God's people from an ancient and obstinate slavery. And not just God's people in first century Nazareth. He was also sent “to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” 

Now, here's where we come in. A “year acceptable to the Lord” means a Jubilee year, a Sabbath year celebrated every 50 yrs during which all debts are canceled and all slaves are freed. Also during this year, all property is returned to its rightful owner or his heirs. Jesus is proclaiming a spiritual Jubilee for those who heard him fulfill Isaiah's prophecy and for all of his Father's children until the Kingdom comes. All slaves to sin are freed. All debts incurred by sin are canceled. And God's property—that's us—is taken from the Devil and returned to its rightful owner. All of this made perfect sense to those in the synagogue. What they didn't believe was that Isaiah's prophecy had actually been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. Having failed to see and hear who was with them, they ran him out of town and tried to kill him. Is this what we do when confronted by the hard work of the Gospel? Rather than throw our trust to the Lord, we question, doubt, find excuses, and waffle. If so, this is a sure sign that we have not embraced the Lord's Jubilee gift.
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Mass in the Dominican Rite

There will be a Missa Cantata in the Dominican rite on Thursday Sept. 27, 2012 at 7:15PM in the Main Chapel of the Dominican House of Studies.

For more information on our provincial website click here.

Some of our student friars will also be undergoing training in the Dominican rite during these days.  It has been many years since this Mass has been celebrated in our main chapel. Though the Dominican Rite has been celebrated here as early as last year.  
                                     
This Mass directly precedes our September 28-30, 2012 vocation weekend. If you are coming to the vocation weekend and would like to attend this Mass you are welcome to come early, just let me know.








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It's Sept 3rd. . .





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02 September 2012

Advice for discerning a vocation to religious life. . .

A couple of HA readers have written to ask about vocation discernment.  From 2009, here's my answer:

Q:  What basic questions should those discerning a religious vocation ask themselves?

I get a lot of questions from younger readers about vocation discernment. For the most part, they want to know how they know whether or not they have a religious vocation. I wish it were as easy as drawing blooding, testing it, and announcing the result. If horse had wings, etc. Here are three cautions and a few questions to ask yourself:

Three Cautions

Suspend any romantic or idealistic notions you might have about religious life. Religious orders are made up of sinful men and women. There is no perfect Order; no perfect monastery; no perfect charism. You WILL be disappointed at some point if you enter religious life. You are going to find folks in religious life who are angry, wounded, bitter, mean-spirited, disobedient, secretive, and just plain hateful. You will also find living saints.

Do your homework. There is no perfect Order, etc. but there is an Order out there that will best use your gifts, strengthen your weaknesses, and challenge you to grow in holiness. Learn everything you can about the Order or monastery you are considering. Use the internet, libraries, "people on the inside," and ask lots and lots of questions. Vocation directors are not salesmen. For the most part, they will not pressure you into a decision. They are looking at you as hard as you are looking them.

Be prepared to do some hard soul-searching. Before you apply to any Order or monastery, be ready to spend a great deal of time in prayer. You will have to go through interviews, psychological evaluations, physicals, credit checks, reference checks, transcript reviews, retreats, and just about anything else the vocations director can think of to make sure he/she knows as much about you as possible. Think of it as penance.

Practical Advice

If you are considering religious life right out of undergraduate school, consider again and again. Get a job. Spend two or three years doing some unpaid volunteer work for one of your favorite Orders. These help you to mature spiritually and will make you a better religious. Most communities these days need folks with practical life-skills like managing money, maintaining cars and equipment, etc.

If you have school loans, start paying them back ASAP! For men, this is not such a huge problem b/c most men's communities will assume loans on a case by case basis when you take solemn vows. For some reason, women's communities do not do this as much. Regardless, paying back your loans shows maturity. I was extremely fortunate and had my grad school loans cancelled after I was ordained! Long story. Don't ask.

Don't make any large, credit-based purchases before joining a community. Cars, houses, boats, etc. will have to be disposed of once you are in vows. Of course, if you are 22 and not thinking of joining an Order until you are 32, well, that's different story. But be aware that you cannot "take it with you" when you come into a community.

Tell family, friends, professors, employers that you thinking about religious life. It helps to hear from others what they think of you becoming a religious. Their perceptions cannot be determinative, but they can be insightful.

Be very open and honest with anyone you may become involve with romantically that you are thinking of religious life. One of the saddest things I have ever seen was a young woman in my office suffering because her fiance broke off their three year engagement to become a monk. She had no idea he was even thinking about it. There is no alternative here: you must tell. Hedging your bet with a boyfriend or girlfriend on the odds that you might not join up is fraudlent and shows a deep immaturity.

Be prepared for denial, scorn, ridicule, and outright opposition from family and friends. I can't tell you how many young men and women I have counseled who have decided not to follow their religious vocations b/c family and friends thought it was a waste of their lives. It's sad to say, but families are often the primary source of opposition. The potential loss of grandchildren is a deep sorrow for many moms and dads. Be ready to hear about it.

Questions to ask yourself

What is it precisely that makes me think I have a religious vocation?

What gifts do I have that point me to this end?

Can I live continent chaste celibacy for the rest of my life?

Can I be completely dependent on this group of men/women for all my physical needs? For most, if not all, of my emotional and spiritual needs?

Am I willing to work in order to provide resources for my Order/community? Even if my work seems to be more difficult, demanding, time-consuming, etc. than any other member of the community?

Am I willing to surrender my plans for my life and rely on my religious superiors to use my gifts for the mission of the Order? In other words, can I be obedient. . .even and especially when I think my superiors are cracked?

Am I willing to go where I am needed? Anywhere in the world?

Can I listen to those who disagree with me in the community and still live in fraternity? (A hard one!)

Am I willing join the Order/community and learn what I need to learn to be a good friar, monk, or nun? Or, do I see my admission as an opportunity to "straighten these guys out"?

How do I understand "failure" in religious life? I mean, how do I see and cope with brothers/sisters who do not seem to be doing what they vowed to do as religious?

What would count as success for me as a religious? Failure?

How patient am I with others as they grow in holiness? With myself?

I can personally attest to having "failed" to answer just about every single one of these before I became a Dominican. I was extremely fortunate to fall in with a community that has a high tolerance for friars who need to fumble around and start over. In the four years before I took solemn vows, there were three times when I had decided to leave the Order and a few more times when the prospects of becoming an "OP" didn't look too good. I hung on. They hung on. And here I am. For better or worse. Here I am.
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See that Justice is done

22nd Sun OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

AUDIO file

When our power went out last Tuesday around five o'clock, I gave a mighty sigh and prepared myself for a day or two of no A/C, no hot water, no lights. Like any good Dominican would, I went to my bookshelf and asked, “What does one read while a hurricane rages outside?” I rejected poetry—too ethereal for a storm. I rejected current events—what can I do about Iran's nuclear build-up or the collapse of the Eurozone during a hurricane? I rejected theology—that's too much like work for a priest. That left philosophy. It took me about two minutes to find William Barrett's classic 1958 study of European existentialism. Given that Isaac was slowing reducing New Orleans to a Stone Age village, the title of his book seemed more than appropriate, Irrational Man. (After four days w/o A/C and a hot shower, “irrational man” pretty much describes me to a tee)! Barrett argues that as a philosophy outside the mainstream western obsession with science and technology, existentialism challenges the human soul to face the deeply abiding problems of what it means to exist, to simply Be. He writes, “A single atmosphere pervades [all truly human problems] like a chilly wind: the radical feeling of human finitude”(36). At the root of being human is the gnawing truth that we are limited, impermanent. The Psalmist rebuts, “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” 

Living in the presence of the Lord is the Father's promise to His children; it is the one hope that keeps crippling despair at bay. If we cannot and do not live with one another in the hope of the resurrection, then the oppressive weight of our mortality, the various spiritual diseases of our finitude can and will crush us, leaving us broken and dying. Barrett notes that as modern men and women we are confronted by a curious problem: as citizens of an increasingly secular culture we have come face-to-face with this “radical feeling of human finitude” at a time when our science and technology promise us nearly limitless knowledge, nearly limitless control. IOW, as our culture abandons the possibility of life beyond death (abandons God) and falls into mortal despair, we find some glimmer of hope in the power we possess to manipulate our physical world through the tools of material science. Our hope is not in the name of the Lord; our hope is in the name of Genetics, Physics, Chemistry, Nanotechnology—a pantheon for 21st century man, these are the gods who will save our bodies but cannot save our souls. The Psalmist patiently reminds us, “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” 

So, you must be wondering: what does the fragility of human life and our deeply seated fear of nothingness have to do with this morning's gospel? Where's the Good News among the bad? The Good News is that even as we lament the death of our innocence in the face of war, terrorism, and natural disaster; even as we mourn the loss of reason's rule in our politics, our universities, and our media; even as we cry over the impoverishment of our collective imagination to exclude God, the saints, angels, demons, miracles, and the promise of eternal life after death; even as we surrender—as a culture—to the idolatrous practice of depending on science and technology to grant us hope for the future, the Good News remains constant, steadfast: we are creatures, crafted beings, drawn from the dust of the earth and given life by a God Who loved us at our creation, loves us now, and will always love us. This truth is not “worn over” creation like a garment but woven into everything and everyone that exists. God spoke the Word “Love” and we are. And nothing—not economic crises, not princes nor presidents; not wars, terrorist bombs, plagues; not science, technology, genetics; not even hurricanes can change the fundamental constitution of God's creation: we live, move, and have our being in Love. 

That's the Good News. Now that we know the Good News, what do we do about it? Barrett argues that modern man's confrontation with the “radical feeling of human finitude” has hobbled us with indecision and angst—a deadly moral impotence that allows violence and power to thrive in the vacuum abandoned by Christian virtue. Once upon a time, no one in the West denied the existence of God. They argued over His nature, His attributes, His will; but no one argued for atheism. Flowing naturally from a belief in the reality of God came a belief in the natural law—that all things were created to become perfect in themselves. From revelation and the natural law we derived the virtues, those good human habits that define us as loving creatures living in community. And from the virtues we derived natural human rights and legislated through our kings, parliaments, and congresses laws to uphold justice and peace. When a human law violated the natural law, we rebelled and overthrew the human law. There is no moral obligation to obey an unjust law. In fact, there is a moral obligation to disobey an unjust law. Justice always trumps the merely legal. 

What does the Good News tell us to do? Jesus shames the Pharisees for imposing unjust rules and regulations on their people. He quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.” Then he adds, “You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition.” Why is their worship vain? The honor they pay to God is from their lips not their hearts. The Pharisees have abandoned hope and embraced regulation; they've surrendered to the lazy spirituality of following rules, thus giving up on the hard work of actually loving one another. Jesus goes to the root of the problem, saying, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” A hardened heart, a heart that has willed itself closed to love will produce “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” These are the sins that kill a soul, that murder charity and turn us away from God. James reminds us of our origins, “[The Father] willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” We are born of truth and from truth justice flows. We are the firstfruits, the first born from His justice. And it is God's justice that stands with us when human finitude threatens us with despair. 

The Psalmist sings, “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” The Goods New of Jesus Christ does not urge us to do justice. We are not encouraged or hectored to do justice. We are given a simple, elegant choice: do justice and live in the presence of the Lord, or don't. If we love the Lord and love him in service to one another, then justice abides where love prevails. The despair that might dawn on us when we come to realize our mortality, our finitude is nothing when set side-by-side with the promise of eternal life. Barrett is right: modern western men and women are besieged by the problems of that arise when they rapidly and recklessly abandon of God. As lovers of God and followers of His Christ, we are gathered and sent to be missionaries, living reminders that though human beings are finite creatures, we are not yet perfect, not yet made perfect. When we love and act lovingly; when we hope and live hopefully; when we trust God and demonstrate that trust, our creaturely limits are defeated, and God receives the glory. So, “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you,” and in justice, see God's will done. 
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