20 October 2012

Audio File for 29th Sunday OT Homily

Audio File for "First & Last," homily for the 29th Sunday OT.

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First & Last

NB.  This is a repost from 2006.  No lame excuses. 

29th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

Think about how we avoid discomfort, suffering, and death. To avoid discomfort we have invented air conditioning, bucket seats, padded shoes, thermal underwear, and even complex social manners to avoid awkward moments at parties and in public restrooms. To avoid suffering we have invented philosophies that deny evil, political utopias where no one is rich or poor, and religions that believe suffering is as an effect of desire and so we must eliminate desire. To avoid death we have invented material immortalities: surgeries, pharmaceuticals, diets, exercises, genetic therapies, nanotechnologies. To avoid death we have also invented ways of creating and re-creating ourselves out of death, or beyond it—the beautiful immortalities of art, literature, monument, heroism, memory, music. 

How much of our daily living is about avoiding discomfort, suffering, and death? Better question: as members of the Body of Christ, heirs to the Father’s Kingdom, are we called to avoid discomfort, suffering, and death? Is this part of our ministry as disciples, as apostles? When is sacrificial service NOT about discomfort, suffering, and death? 

Isaiah sets us up to understand exactly how suffering—willingly taking on pain for a godly purpose—is essential to sacrificial service: “If he gives his life as an offering for sin…the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” Note these three: “if he gives his life,” “because of his affliction,” and “through his suffering.” And note the progression: the Lord’s servant freely offers himself for the sin of others…he sees the light in fullness b/c of this sacrificial service…and through his suffering—his willing acceptance of our sin for a higher purpose—the servant brings many to righteousness. He justifies us before the Lord. In other words, because he was discomforted, b/c he suffered, b/c he died, we do not have to. We are instead comforted, free of anxious worry, and we may live eternally. 

So, if this is true—and it is—why then do we still work so hard to avoid discomfort, run so fast from suffering, and dodge the death of repentance so arduously? We do not want to be last. We are creatures of Firsts—first across the line, at the top of our game, highest score, fastest time, strongest lift, best grade, first prize, deepest soul, lightest spirit, hardest body…all to weaken, all to weaken and fade, all to weaken and fade and die. Dust. Shade. Snap of an echo. Gone. 

Who wants to be a servant? Who wants the work of serving others? There is no glamour there, no applause, no dramatic ovation or spray of roses. It’s humble grubbing, embarrassing effort that makes someone’s life better but it just gives me wet armpits, dirty hands, a sore back, and a logjam on my own housework or my DVD watching. Surely, it is better to be served; better to be first and not last; a Master and not a slave. It is! 

If you will be in this world and of it, then you are morally obligated to pursue the best, the first, the highest. To be in and of the world is to be in and of the virtues the world holds up as Good. To be otherwise is suicide. You must honor the bottom-line. Praise efficiency. Worship at the altar of productivity. Practice winner-take-all competition. Lose the losers. Appeal to no power mightier than civil law. Here’s your bumper sticker: “If you have yours, I can’t have mine.” You must celebrate my needs as my rights, otherwise you are oppressing me. You must also celebrate my wants as my rights, otherwise you are hating me. Requiring me to serve others is just you trying to control me with guilt. I don’t do guilt. My adult spirituality is an eclectic weaving together of the best elements of a variety of religious traditions—none of which require anything of me, especially not sacrificial service! If you will be of this world and in it, you must conform to its virtues: work-pride, self-avarice, power-lust, gift-envy, success-gluttony, failure-wrath, and soul-sloth. Play with these worldly virtues or risk their opposing vices: ignored in modesty, disrespected for generosity, mocked for purity, taken for granted in kindness, ostracized for abstinence, laughed at for mercy shown, and hated for one’s holy industry. 

If you will be great among the Lord’s disciples, you will serve. If you will be first among the apostles, you will be a slave to all. 

The pain that Jesus endured on the cross did not and does not save us. The beatings by the Roman soldiers, the betrayal of his disciples, the political backstabbing wheeling-dealing of Pilate—all of these caused Jesus pain. This pain did not save us. Pain is not redemptive. Isaiah heard the Lord say, “If he gives his life as an offering for sin…the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.” If he gives. James and John ask Jesus to be honored in his kingdom. Jesus says to his honor-seeking disciples: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink…?” They say, “We can.” We can drink the cup that you, Lord, drink—the same cup that Jesus later prays will pass him by! For the Servant’s pain to be redemptive, for Jesus’ pain on the cross to be redemptive, it must be suffered, that is, “allowed.” It must be taken on with a will and directed to the benefit of others. To wallow in pain is to wallow in pain. Nothing more. To take up pain in the service of others, to designate pain as a sacrifice, to make it holy by giving it away for a holy end—that is suffering! And this suffering mocks the Devil. It scrubs the world clean. It rotates the unholy virtues of pride and greed and blesses them as humility and generosity. 

Discomfort is eased. Suffering is avoided. Death is delayed. We will invent and re-invent human civilization after human civilization in order to ease our discomfort, to avoid our suffering, and to delay our deaths. And we will lift up and parade the secular virtues to justify our refusal to take on service for others. But is this what we as Christians are called to do? Are we called to avoid discomfort, suffering, and death? No. We are called to transform discomfort, suffering, and death; to make each into the good habit of being Christs for others. We are called to turn discomfort into the luxury of humility; to turn pain into the art of redemptive suffering; to turn death into a witness to everlasting Life! 

Our Lord did not die on the cross so that we might be blue ribbon winners or gold medalists. He died on the cross to show us how to be the friends of God. How to be servants to one another. He gave his life as a ransom for many so that we will know how to give our lives as a ransom for many more. 

What does your life stand for? What do you represent in the world? Whom do you serve? Here’s a question for you: will you die for me? For that guy behind you? For your next door neighbor? If you will give your life as an offering for sin, the will of the Lord will be accomplished through you. And because of your affliction you will see the light in fullness of day. Will you be small in the kingdom of God by dying to pride and greed in the service of others? Or will you insist on being great among the Great of the World and in the end find yourself among the Great who proudly rule the smoldering trash heaps of Gehenna? 

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Liberal Fascism, or the meanness of being Nice

I've been reading this book off and on since it was published in early 2008. It rested among my stored books for four years and now sits on my nightstand. It's not at all what you might think.

Basically, Goldberg argues that the Left in American politics is a "kinder, gentler" form of European fascism. He delves into the history of the movement, starting with Mussolini, and marks out how fascism is a thoroughly leftist ideology. 

He also traces the history of how fascism became associated with the political Right in the U.S. He quotes liberally from 1930's fascist propaganda, noting that many American Leftists at the same praised Mussolini and Hitler for their forward-looking grasp on economics and social engineering.

He's quick to say that he's not claiming that American Leftists are Nazi's, etc. But he does draw some frightening parallels between fascistic "mass movements" in pre-WWII Europe and the student movements of the 1960's and current "identity movements" on contemporary campuses.

I'm not a political philosopher or historian, so I can't judge the truthfulness of his claims in these areas. I can tell you that as a reformed Leftist, many of his claims about the "politics of meaning" and "identity politics" are spot on.

Back in the Big Easy. . .

Made it safely home from my visit with the OP Nuns of Mt Thabor. . .

L to R:  Sr. Maria, Sr. Anne, Sr. Joseph, Sr. Agnes, and Sr. Martin.

Had a great time praying, studying, and laughing with these holy women. 

Among the good discussions and good food. . .there was a rather unusual event:  at dinner on Thursday afternoon, eight young deer bounced passed the dining room window!  How do I know it was unusual?  It caused eight Dominicans to stop eating and talking for a whole five seconds!  :-)

I am looking forward to returning to Michigan and spending more time with the Mighty Nuns of Ortonville.

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15 October 2012

3 reminders about confession

A reminder to all those who frequent the confessional:

Just tell Father your SINS.

If you find yourself saying, "Father, I need to give you a little background. . ."  STOP.  No.  You don't.  If background is necessary, the priest will ask for it.  Otherwise, assume none is necessary.

Just tell Father YOUR sins.

If you find yourself saying, "Father, my husband/wife/children/neighbor/co-worker. . ."  STOP.  This is your confession and yours alone.  There is no such thing as vicarious confession.

Just TELL Father your sins.

If you find yourself saying, "Father, I don't know if X is a sin but the moon was full and my car ran out of gas. . ."  STOP.  No explanations.  No excuses.  No reasons why.  No doubts, dodges, or dissembling.  Just TELL.

In all cases, under all circumstances, regardless of intent:  assume that if more info is needed, the priest will ask for it.  Otherwise, just tell Father your sins.  

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Going to Mt Thabor!

Leaving Tuesday morning for a three day retreat with the Dominican nuns of the Monastery of Mt. Thabor.

I'll be giving talks on BXVI's Deus caritas est and enjoying the company of the sisters!

Will be back to blogging Saturday morning (20th).

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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Unnecessary Signs

St. Teresa of Jesus
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Last night, up for the second time, I was shown a truth about my world I had never thought to question. There just about three feet from the floor, hovering in mid-air, is a small glowing object. I stare for a moment, without my glasses, in the dark, and think for just a second that perhaps the Lord has sent an angel to tell me something amazing. As I contemplate this greenish-yellow glow, thinking about revelations, dreams, and prophecies, I am suddenly struck by the truth of what I am seeing, but there it is, as plain as an October moon, and I realize with a nearly blinding clarity: my toothbrush glows in the dark! Then, just being me, the question arises: why would anyone think to make toothbrushes glow in the dark? Stumbling back to bed, I chuckle myself to sleep wondering what we would look like if our teeth glowed in the dark.*

Strictly speaking, my “vision” of the glowing toothbrush was a discovery not a revelation. Its discovery was accidental and has no meaning beyond what I can give it in a homily about seeking after signs of God’s presence. As a divine sign my glowing toothbrush fails what we can call here the “From Test;” that is, my toothbrush shining in the darkness on the sink cannot be said to be “from” God. We cannot say that a glowing toothbrush made by a creature reveals much about God. Signs point the way and make present that which they signify. Divine signs point the way to God and make His presence knowable to those who desire to know Him. 

The crowds are understandably both curious and worried about Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. They approach him and make a reasonable request for a sign. Traditionally, those claiming to be “sent from God” provide signs that point to God’s presence and make Him knowable. Those in the crowds are likely pious and certainly curious, and therefore understandably seek some indication from this rabble-rousing preacher that he is who he claims to be. Show us a sign. Jesus’ response is unexpected and harsh: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it…” We have to wonder why Jesus is being so stubborn. We know he is capable of miraculous deeds. Why not show these folks what they need to see? 

Jesus says that no sign will be given to them “except the sign of Jonah.” Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and nights, so the Son of Man will be “in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Jonah is expelled from the whale and goes on to preach repentance to the decadent citizens of Nineveh. They repent and return to God’s favor. So Jesus too, expelled from the grave and risen from the dead, will be a sign to the crowds and a sign to us that Jesus is indeed who he claims to be. Jesus goes on to add that on the day of judgment, “the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, b/c they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” Needing no other sign than the earnest preaching of an honest prophet, the citizens of Nineveh return to God. 

Here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, can we be counted an “evil and unfaithful generation” seeking after signs? What signs do we seek? Crying statues? Marian apparitions? Bleeding Hosts? Yes, all of these and many more. But do we need these signs? We do not. We have a magisterial Church, her sacraments, a divine guarantee against defeat, and pews packed with priests, prophets, and kings. All of these speak with one voice to say what is good and what the Lord requires: “Only to do the right and love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

*I should've noted earlier:  this incident is true. . .but it happened back in 2006 when I first preached this homily.

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14 October 2012

Gaudet Mater Ecclesia!

from Blessed John XXIII's opening address to the Second Vatican Council, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia:

[. . .]

The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. That doctrine embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul. And, since he is a pilgrim on this earth, it commands him to tend always toward heaven.

[. . .]
In order, however, that this doctrine may influence the numerous fields of human activity, with reference to individuals, to families, and to social life, it is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world, which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.

[. . .]

The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.

For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.

[. . .]

The Holy Father's point here is that the apostolic faith does not and cannot change.  However, how our faith is presented can and should change so that it might be more effectively preached and taught.  

Nowhere in the documents of Vatican Two do the Fathers of the councils radically alter any fundamental Catholic doctrine or dogma.  
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You are lacking one thing

NB.  Our deacons are preaching this weekend. . .so, here's a repost for this Sunday from 2006.

28th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

Here’s what I know to be true about everyone in this church, everyone who can hear my voice right now, here’s what’s true about you: you desire to know God, you long to be touched by His spirit, you want more than gold, silver, or cold hard cash to be in His presence and to know his healing grace. How do I know this? There is no other reason for you to be here. No other incentive or reward to come to this place this evening than to encounter the living God. If you are here—and you are—then you are here b/c the Holy Spirit has thumped your ear, kicked you in the rear, or maybe even two-by-foured you upside the head. You are here b/c you know that you will not be filled, will not be settled, will not be gentled or graced or rested with anything or anyone less than the One Who made you. No gold, no silver, no cash, no love, no job, no amount or kind of power will slake your dry thirst, feed your yawning hunger, or tame your wild longing for our Father’s love. He is our beginning and our end, our source and our finish. And nothing shortens His love for us or diminishes His mercy to us. He knows what we need more than air to breathe and water to drink and He is here to give us all that we need. And this is why we are here.

So let me ask you: what riches do you put between you and our Father’s love for you? What possesses you and holds you back? If Jesus looked into your eyes and said to you: “You are lacking one thing for eternal life.” What is that one thing?

The rich young man asks Jesus how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus patiently recites the commandments given to Moses. The young man tells Jesus that he has observed the Law all his life. And then in an moment that deserves its own gospel, Jesus looks into the young man’s heart, loves him, and with this love sees the gaping hole in the young man’s soul—the lack, the longing that defines him. Jesus sees the young man’s enslavement to things. What the young man lacks but desires is poverty. Freedom from stuff. Freedom from ownership. He has many possessions. He is possessed by many things.

So, knowing that the young man seeks eternal life and knowing that he desires to be free of these things, why doesn’t Jesus free him from his possessions? Why not cast out the demons of avarice and liberate the young man from his bondage? Jesus does exactly that. Jesus tells him as precisely as he can: go, sell your stuff, give to the money to the poor, and follow me. His exorcism is complete. But you see, an exorcism is effective only on those willing to be freed from their demons. The young man desires to be free. But he doesn’t will it; he doesn’t act. And so he remains a slave to his possessions. Jesus offers him control over his greed, control over his stuff, and instead, at the words of exorcism, the young man’s face falls and he goes away sad to be sad all his days.

Here’s what you must understand about desire. Desire is at once longing and lacking, hungering and not having. To desire love is to long for it and to admit that you don’t have it. Jesus looks into the heart of the young man and sees his brightest desire, his strongest lack, and he loves him for it. But we cannot be a slave to two masters. We cannot give our hearts to two loves. We must be poor in spirit so that we can be rich in God’s gifts. We must be poor in spirit so that there is room for Christ, room for him to sit at our center and rule from the core of our being. This is what it means for us to prefer wisdom to scepter and throne; to prefer wisdom to health and beauty; to account silver and gold as sludge. In wisdom all good things come together in her company.

This is the point in the homily when I am supposed to exhort you to give up your earthly attachments. Exhort you to surrender your chains: your inordinate love of cars and money and gadgets and sex and drugs and rock and roll…But you know all that, don’t you? You know as well as I do that none of that is permanent. None of that can substitute for the love of God and the grace of his mercy. None of that will bring you happiness. It is ash and smoke and shadow and will never—despite the promises of luxury and attention—will never make you happy. You know this. I don’t need to tell you that nothing created can do what only the Creator can—give you a permanent love and life everlasting.

But let me ask you again: what riches do you put between yourself and our Father’s love for you? What possesses you and holds you back? If Jesus looked into your eyes and said to you: “You are lacking one thing for eternal life.” What is that one thing? Knowing UD students as I do, my guess is that not many of you are held back by expensive possessions. Not many are held back by lands and jewels and gold reserves! Not many of you are suffering under the weighty burden of Gucci, Prada, Christian Dior and Yves St. Laurent!

Let me ask a different set of questions. Let’s see how many hit home. Are you rich in a fear that God doesn’t love you enough? Are you unlovable? Are you so rich in sin that a righteous God couldn’t possibly forgive you? Are you so rich in self-sufficiency, self-reliance that you don’t need other people? So rich in a personal knowledge of God that you don’t need others to reveal the Father to you? Are you so rich in divine gifts that you don’t need the gifts of others to make it day to day? Or maybe you’ve stored up your wealth in good works and can survive without grace for a while? Maybe you don’t need Jesus to look you in the eye and love you because your grasp of the theological and moral constructs of the human experience of the Divine are sufficient to elicit an affirmative response from the ground of your Being to the invitation of the Ground of Being Itself to become more Grounded in Being. Are you burning through your life on the fuel of self-righteous certainty—the false assurance that you’ve got it right all on your own (objectively and absolutely) and that there is nothing else for you to learn and no one competent to teach you? Are you so wise? Are you angry that no one else notices your wisdom? Does your desire for piety and purity bring you closer to your brothers and sisters in Christ, or is this desire an excuse to keep them at a safe distance? Is your public holiness also a private holiness, or is it a pretense that hides a furious lack of charity?

Let me ask the hardest question: what do you fear? More often than not we are slaves to our fears not our loves and we can dodge public responsibility for our fears. We cannot dodge Christ: no creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

I’m not worried. Not even a little. Here’s what I know: we desire to know God, we long to be touched by His spirit, we want more than gold, silver, or cold hard cash to be in His presence and to know his healing grace. We are here b/c He loved us here and we got off the couch, off the computer, off the cell phone, and we made it here for this reason and no other: we cannot be happy w/o Him and there is no better or messier or more graceful place to find Him than among His mongrel children at prayer.

Bring your lack to Him and do what needs to be done to follow Him.

Here's Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP homily for today's readings (H/T: Matheus)

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The Year of Faith & You (Updated)

WHEREAS, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has declared that the next 12 months shall be a Year of Faith;

And WHEREAS, our Supreme Pastor has encouraged the use of social media to promote the teaching and preaching of the Gospel worldwide;

And WHEREAS, Yours Truly is one of the many Catholics who make use of social media to spread the Good News;

HERE is a question:  what specifically can HancAquam do for you in this Year of Faith?

UPDATE:  Let me be a little more specific:  what sorts of posts can I write to help you better understand, live out, and spread the Gospel?

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