03 November 2012

Heart, mind, strength

31st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady, Star of the Sea

Audio File

With All Saints and All Souls, the Church has heard much about love of late. If you think we've heard too much about love, remember: God is Love; so, when we speak of love, we speak of God. Can the Church hear too much about God? Can we be reminded too often that we live, move, and have our being in Love? Preaching to the assembled people of God, just before they cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses enjoins the people: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Not only are we reminded that we live, move, and have our being in God; we are enjoined—commanded—to return His love with every act, every thought, every word, with every breath we take. Knowing that we are loved is not enough. Believing that we are loved is not enough. What is enough? That each one of us becomes God's love in flesh and bone; that each one of us rises and sleeps, eats and works, prays and plays soaked through with the spirit of God. Take these words to heart: “The Lord our God is Lord alone!” And the Lord our God is love. 

Moses commands, and Jesus agrees: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. . .” Resting at the center of our being, the heart holds all our passions. Every emotion we feel—sorrow, joy, fear, anger—starts in the heart and moves us to action. Sorrow moves us to mourn. Joy moves us to give thanks and praise. Fear moves us to run. Anger moves us to fight. By themselves, our passions are neither good nor evil; they are what they are and no more. Sorrow can move us to mourn or move us to violence. Fear can move us to run or move us to laugh. By themselves, our passions can tell us nothing about what is right or wrong, about what we ought to do or not to do. When Moses commands, and Jesus agrees, that we must love our God with all our heart, they are commanding us put love at the center of our being. Love must rule sorrow. Love must rule fear, anger, and joy. Without exception, love must rule the heart, control the passions, and advise the will. When we fail to love God will our whole heart, we allow passion to eat away at our reason; we invite evil into our lives; and all the mortal sins that damn us—murder, adultery, fornication—all those acts of disobedience that leave us separated from God, they all become too easy. And then, living apart from God seems normal. There is nothing normal about living in rebellion against the Lord God! 

So, Moses commands, and Jesus agrees: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind. . .” If your passions play about in your heart, then your intellect works away in your mind. Every thought, every moment of thinking is done by the mind using reason. Like the passions, the intellect is a gift from God—a gift we are to use in deliberating on the moral choices before us, the intellectual choices presented to us. And just like the passions of our heart, the intellect working in our mind can become disordered, unfocused, confused. When Moses and Jesus command us to love God with our whole mind, they are commanding us to focus all of our intellectual power, all of our mental faculties on the task of making sure that no one and nothing controls how we think, how we deliberate, how we reason before we first give our minds in love to God. If love must rule sorrow, anger, fear, and joy, then love must also rule reason as it works in the mind. Otherwise, we will choose to believe a lie; we'll be taken in by the Liar himself; and find ourselves thinking along with the princes of this world instead of the Prince of Peace. With love ruling both the heart and the mind, we are souls closer to God and closer to His perfection. 

But what about strength? Both Moses and Jesus tell us to love God with our whole strength. Heart, mind, strength. Strength is a physical, mental, or psychological power that we wield to accomplish a task. Think: a strong mind, a strong heart, a strong back. Strength is also the power we use to resist physical, mental, or psychological pressure. Think: strength of character, strength of purpose, moral strength. When we put our strength—all of our strength—into loving God, His love becomes our strength, and nothing that nature, man, or the Devil himself can throw at us that will break us. This spiritual strength is our firm, steadfast conviction that God abides by His promises; that He has never failed His people and He never will; that the God Who freed Moses and His people from Egypt and pulled them through the desert to the Promised Land will even now—5,000 yrs later—stand by His covenant and see us blessed, protected, and flourishing under His care. With all your strength—mind, heart, soul—love God. The Lord Who will stand you up and nothing will knock you down. 

Let me—for a moment—play spiritual director, confessor. When I search my own heart and mind, and when God's people come to me as their pastor, I see a lot of failure; a whole lot of weakness; and even more outright disobedience. I recognize in these souls all my own failures and weaknesses. All brought and paid for by my disobedience. Whether the sin is lack of charity or impatience or infidelity, whatever the sin is, the gnarled root of the sin is always the same: failure to love God. I hear Jesus say to scribe in this evening's gospel, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And I think to myself, “You know all that stuff too, Philip. How far are you from the kingdom of God?” What does this scribe know that I don't? What is he doing that I'm not doing? Mark tells us that Jesus saw that the scribe “answered with understanding.” But surely understanding the commandment to love is not enough to get closer to God! When we understand, we “stand under,” meaning we place ourselves underneath, in submission to. This is an act of both the heart and the mind, an act of strength that defies pride and arrogance. When we fail to love God, we fail to understand—to place ourselves in submission to—His will for us. There is nothing for us to do but fail without the power of God's love moving us to love Him.

Think for a moment about your trials and your temptations. I bet you that you—like me—can trace every single trial you've suffered, every single temptation you've fought to a moment when you allowed passion to rule, or your reason to get confused, or your strength to waver. And every one of those times can be traced even further back to a moment when God was not front and center in your life; when your love was given to something or someone less than God Himself. Our worst failures to hear God and listen to Him come when we decide that we no longer need His love, or when we decide that something or someone else is more deserving of our love—the bottle, the dollar, the job, the neighbor's spouse, my reputation. What are the chances that a dollar will get me into heaven? Or a well-padded resume? Or a long list of sexual partners? These aren't love. None of these will love me into the kingdom. Christ and him alone is the key to the kingdom. He is love given flesh and bone; love nailed to a cross and risen again from the grave; and now he sits at the right hand of the Father and calls to our hearts and our minds and our souls to join him at the heavenly banquet. When you hear that call, your heart will leap, your mind will clear, and your soul will rejoice b/c love calls to love, deep to deep, and, if you will to be strong in His presence, you will answer back: I love you, Lord, my heart, my strength. 

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

Priesthood Sunday (a belated homily)

NB.  The deacons are preaching at St Dominic this weekend.  I'm preaching at Our Lady Star of the Sea.  That homily will be up later today.  Below is a homily for Priesthood Sunday* from 2005. It's one of the first I posted on HancAquam.
31st Sunday OT (Priesthood Sunday)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas

Wow. I know of no other way of expressing my amazement at tonight’s readings. Wow! On Priesthood Sunday we get these readings. One from the prophet Malachi, delivering a dire warning from the Lord to his priests: “If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name…I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.” Again, I say, Wow! We have another from Paul describing his apostolic work among the Thessolians: “We were gentle among you…with such affection for you, we were determined to share with you [the gospel and our every selves] so dearly beloved had you become to us…Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to the gospel of God.” Wow. And then we have Jesus denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, their failure to minister according to their own teaching, and an admonition to his disciples to avoid the destructive example of these men in their own ministry. Instead, Jesus teaches, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Wow.

I can say without fear of contradiction from any of my brother priests: these are not the readings we would have chosen to preach on on this Priesthood Sunday! But I will go out on a limb here too and say: these are the readings we—my brother priests and I—most need to hear. We have an warning from the Lord that our teaching, our manner of life, our public ministry, all bear on the integrity and authenticity of the witness we claim to make to the world.

We have a picture of selfless service to God’s people, a determination to preach and teach the gospel, an affection for the brothers and sisters given to us by God to care for—a striking image of the apostle caring for his kin in Christ like a nursing mother cares for her children. And we have the Lord Himself drawing a stark constrast btw the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes and the necessary humility of his own students.

What’s absolutely clear in this teaching is that the Christian priest utterly fails in his ministry when he turns his ministry into an opportunity to promote his ego, to glorify his personality, to satisfiy his own needs, to celebrate with his cult of fans, or to place himself as master above those he serves. This is a failure to listen, a failure to take to heart the vocation of service, a failure to give glory to God, to walk the narrow way, to preach and teach what Jesus preached and taught, and a failure to honor his ordination covenant, the covenant every Catholic priest makes when he kneels before the bishop to receive the Holy Spirit: the covenant to be for God’s people a man ordered to sacrifice and to serve in persona Christi Capitis—in the person of Christ the Head of his Body.

I started my priesthood just five months ago. I started my life as a Dominican five years ago at the beginning of the scandals. My brothers and I sat at table every morning in the novitate and the studium and read the headlines. I remember gathering for a meeting with our student master in St Louis and talking frankly about the future of the priesthood and our place in the Church as men ordained to be servant-leaders. Our overwhelming sense of disgust, betrayal, dire disappointment, and anger constantly threatened our vocations. We seemed to teeter on the verge of an exodus. We waited, holding our breath, for the tension to break and the departures to begin. No one left. We all stayed. Scandal did not kill this harvest!

What does the Body of Christ need from its priests in the 21st century? The Body needs now and tomorrow what it needed yesterday, last year, and 2,000 years ago: men ready, willing, and able to take on the person of Christ in priestly ordination and lead His church by an exemplary life of selfless service to others. More than ever the Church needs men who will put aside private political agendas, personal philosophies and theologies, idiosyncratic visions of ecclesial reform and revolution and take on the yoke of Christ that has been handed down to us through twenty centuries by men and women blessed of God with graces beyond measure.

We need men unafraid of obedience, fearless in the face of growing secular opposition and internal dissent, men deeply commited to prayer, who live lives in humility (or who are eager to learn how!); we need men who can say, “I don’t know it all, I can’t learn it all, I need as much help as I can get, I need your help, and we all need the Lord’s help.” And we need men who will preach and teach what Jesus preached and taught. If he will stand in the pulpit to preach and stand at the altar of sacrifice to pray, he must be a man ready to say, “Do not look at me to see Christ, look through me.”

Jesus teaches us this evening that the ministry of the Christian priest is founded on a life of integrity: a seamless garment of thought and action given to the service of others for the greater glory of God. He denounces the Pharisees and the scribes for teaching one thing and doing another, for heaping onto their people burdens that they themselves will not take on, for seeking honor, prestige, and titles for the sake of ego and public display. Jesus directs his disciples to watch these hypocrites carefully so that they will learn how not to serve his Church, how not to lead in his name. The call from Jesus to lead by service is the call to seek humility in the face of the temptation to be lauded. It is the call to act in the full knowledge that one does not serve out of acquired or practiced talents, but out of the pure gift of love, the invitation to dwell in the divine life. Paul writing to the Thessalonians describes perfectly the ministry of the apostle sent out to be Christ for others. He tells his brothers and sisters that they have received from him “not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”

The work of the priest, the work of all Christians priests, ordained and royal, is to speak the word of God for others to hear, to bring that word into their own lives so that there is no discrepancy, no hypocrisy btw word and deed, and to toil with affection for one another.

On this Priesthood Sunday, we have a warning, an example, and a lesson. Listen, take them to heart, and give glory to God’s name.  

* Priesthood Sunday was last Sunday, Oct 28th.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

02 November 2012

Don't wait. . .love now!

Feast of All Souls
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Many of the homilies that Catholics hear on the feast of All Souls leave the distinct impression that heaven is overpopulated; hell is vacate; and purgatory is just a silly medieval myth. Much will be made of Dante's overbearing influence on how we think about the nature of the afterlife, and everyone will be assured that God leaves no one behind. That last part—about God leaving no one behind—is true. He doesn't. What's left out, however, is the fact that we are perfectly capable of leaving ourselves behind, and that God will honor this choice. God won't leave us behind, but He will allow us to leave ourselves. Jesus says, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me. . .” No one who comes to Christ will be rejected by him. However, no one who chooses to reject him will be hog-tied and frog-marched into heaven against his/her will. Love can be commanded; it cannot be coerced. The saints chose Christ's love. The damned chose pride's conceit. The souls we pray for this evening chose Christ's love for themselves but did not love as he loved them. Now, they wait to be made pure as he is pure.

Following Christ is not a part-time job or a weekend hobby. It's not an experiment, a fling, or a stepping stone while seeking something better. When we choose to accept Christ's love, we also choose to love as he loves us—sacrificially, without conditions. He says that he will reject no one who comes to him. And if we choose to be part of his sacrifice, and benefit from his love, then we must also choose to freely grant that same benefit to others. In practical terms, this means that we do not get to pick and choose whom we will love nor do we get to sort through the crowd electing some for salvation and rejecting others. As faithful followers of Christ, we love indiscriminately so that those who are tempted to reject Christ might see in us the good spiritual fruits that result from coming to him and believing in him. If anyone—at the last day—rejects Christ and chooses instead to live separated from God forever, do not let it be said that they rejected Christ b/c we failed to love as Christ loves us. Failures in charity can be large and small. Large failures kill charity outright. But most of our failures to love as we ought are small, driven by petty passions or slight hurts. It's these little weaknesses, these venial lapses that keep us within reach of heaven but outside our grasp. 

All our years are spent desiring God. When we realize that it is God whom we desire most, we come to Christ. And we spend the rest of our years being pounded into perfection by trial, temptation, victory, and the sure knowledge that we are not alone. Very few leave this life having both reached for and grasped heaven's perfection. We celebrated their victories yesterday. Most of us will likely die with a small stain or two on our baptismal garment. After death, without the limits of a body, we see more perfectly Him whom we have sought all our lives; yet, b/c we are not yet stainless, we cannot join him. The difference btw seeing Love more perfectly than we ever have before and knowing how we have failed to love as we ought is what we call the “pains of purgatory,” the pain we experience as a soul perfectly loved by God but not itself perfectly loving. In purgatory, we do not experience the duration of time but rather the intensity of our failures as we freely surrender them to God. As each failure is washed clean, our desire to join Him intensifies. Rather than wait in purgatory to love as Christ loves us, come to him now and believe his Good News, accepting as your own his mission to reject no one, to leave no one behind. In both small ways and large, love as Christ loves you. 

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

01 November 2012

Homily for All Saints (audio file)

Audio File for:  "You can stand among them," homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe

Go to Mass today!

A reminder to you all:

Today is the Solemnity of All Saints. . .

A holy day of obligation.

We are celebrating 4 Masses today at St. Dominic's: 7.00am, 8.30am, 12.15pm, and 6.00pm.

Y'all come!

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe  ----->

Message (and books) received. . .

My thanks to an anonymous Book Benefactor for sending me two books:  Meaning of Grace and Companion to Existentialism!

Yesterday was not an "up" day for me, so receiving these books served as a much-needed spiritual booster shot.

Fr. Philip

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

31 October 2012

You can stand among them

Solemnity of All Saints
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” So writes St. John. What do we know about what we will become? “We do know that when [what are to become] is revealed we shall be like him. . .” We will be like God. How is this possible? “. . .for we shall see him as he is.” To see God as He is, face-to-face, is to become like Him. John writes, “Everyone who has this hope [—to see Him face-to-face—] makes himself pure, as he is pure.” Those who lived with the hope of living forever in the presence of God's glory; those who have become all that they were made to be; those who have gone to see God face-to-face—these, we call “saints.” Both named and unnamed, both those still with us and those who rest in Christ—that “great multitude. . .from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” all the saints of God, testify before the throne in heaven and among us here and now that “salvation comes from our God. . .and from the Lamb;” therefore, we are blessed to exclaim along with them, “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever!” 

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” So writes St John. And we are children of God. Made so by God so that we might become saints through Christ. First, we were loved into existence out of nothingness; then, we were loved into freedom through mercy; then, we were free to love so that Love Himself might be perfected in us; then, and only then, were we shown, if we will it, how to take a place among the blessed: die to self. Take up your cross. Follow Christ. The poor in spirit; the meek; those who mourn; the clean of heart; the peacemakers; all those who hunger and thirst for righteous—all are among the blessed, the saints, because they desired nothing and no one more than they desired Christ. Christ is who they all most wanted to followed, most wanted to be. And they died for love as a sacrifice for many. Whether they died by the sword, the firing squad, by poverty and obedience; by wearying service; or surrender to solitude, they died first to self. Picked up their cross. And followed Christ. 

We celebrate this solemnity for all God's saints. Those named and unnamed, that “great multitude. . .from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” both those still with us and those who rest already in Christ. But we don't celebrate their lives and deaths b/c they need us our prayers and attention. We celebrate all the saints of the Church b/c we need to. And not simply b/c they stand above us as examples of holiness; and not just b/c they are pioneers for us along the narrow Way; and not only b/c we need their heavenly help before the throne of God, but b/c they are now who we can become if we will to become more than children of God. What we will become has not yet been revealed. But we know this: whatever we become, we will be like God for we will see Him as he is, face-to-face. And in seeing Him face-to-face, we will be made perfect as He is perfect. We celebrate all the saints of God's holy family so that we never forget where we came from (dirt and ash) and where we might end (among the blessed). All the angels and saints, along with the Blessed Mother and our own St. Dominic, proclaim before the throne of God: “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever!” If you will it. . .die to self. . .take up your cross. . .and follow Christ, you will stand among them.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

10 Questions about Zombies

What is a Zombie?

What is the Zombie Apocalypse?

What is the Best Z.A. Preparedness Plan?  

What is the Best Zombie Movie

What is the Best Zombie Novel

What is the Best Zombie TV Show?  (Like you have to ask. . .)

What is the Best Weapon Against Zombies

What is the Best Fragrance to Wear for the Z.A.?

What do Catholics Think of Zombies?

What Good Are Zombies to the New Evangelization?

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

Free Catholic Books

The Year of Faith is upon us. . .

Lots of suggestions floating around out there for celebrating the Year of Faith.

As a Dominican friar and bibliophile, I have one to add to the growing list:


The link above will take you to a site with links to dozens of free Catholic classics.

May I direct your attention to the Church Fathers.  Our Patristic sources are particular favorites of Pope BXVI.


Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

Among the freaks and lunatics. . .again.

NB.  I have the vigil Mass for All Saints this evening. . .homily to be posted later today. Here's a 2010 homily on the gospel for today's Mass.  

21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Blackfriars, Oxford U.

Some see it as a door. Others see it as a path. Jesus says it's a gate, a narrow gate. Flannery O'Connor's creation, that paragon of 1950's white rural middle-class Protestant respectability, Mrs. Turpin, saw it as a bridge. She stands at the fence of her hog pen, the pigs have gathered themselves around an old sow: “A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with a secret life.” She watches them 'til sunset, “her gaze bent to them as if she were absorbing some abysmal life-giving knowledge.” Finally, ready for the revelation, Mrs. Turpin raises her hands and “a visionary light settles in her eyes.” A purple-crimson dusk streaks the sky, connecting the fields with the highway: “She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven.” Mrs. Turpin is surprised to see not only poor white trash on that bridge but black folks too. And among the “battalions of freaks and lunatics,” she sees her own tribe of scrubbed-clean, property-owning, church-going people—singing on key, orderly marching, being responsible as they always have been. We might imagine that it was a distant relative of Mrs Turpin who asked Jesus that day, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

Some say it is a door or a path. Some think of it as a key or a tabernacle. Jesus says that it is a Narrow Gate, a gate so narrow that most won't have the strength to push themselves through. There will be some on this side of the gate and some on the other side. Most of us imagine that we will be on the right side of the gate when the master of the house comes to lock the door. We will be on the inside listening to those on the outside plea for mercy, shout out their faithfulness, and cry for just one more chance. We will be on the inside when the master shouts at those on the outside, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” When we hear this brutal rebuke, do we flinch? Do we beg mercy for those left outside? Do we try to rejoin them in a show of solidarity?

These questions matter only if we have gathered the strength necessary to squeeze ourselves through the gate. If we are weak, exhausted, apathetic, or if we really are evildoers, then staying on this side of the gate, away from the table of the kingdom, probably seems more attractive, easier to accomplish, not so much sweat and tears. Do we really want to be part of a banquet that excludes so many? Do we want to lend our support to a homeowner who crafts a narrow gate for his front door, knowing that most will not be able to enter? We may be lazy or stupid or just plain evil, but we would rather suffer righteously with sinners than party self-righteously with the saints!

Mrs. Turpin's distant cousin is insistent, however: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus never answers the question. Rather than giving a straightforward yes, no, or about one-third, he moves the question away from the number of those to be saved toward the method by which they will be saved. Those who are saved are saved b/c they have used their strength to push through the Narrow Gate just before the Master locks the door. How many are saved? Don't know. Who are these people? Don't know that either. What happens to those who didn't make it through? Wailing, grinding teeth, and being cast out. Despite all their pleas, they are cast out.

Is there anything for us to do now in order to build up our strength for that final push through the Narrow Gate? Anything for us to do to fortify ourselves for that last surge, that last run at the battlement's gate? We read in the letter to the Hebrews: “. . .strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.” This is a call to righteousness, not just the sort of uprightness that comes from following the rules, but the righteousness that comes from calling on God to correct our infirmities—our drooping hands and weak knees—so that what is lame is healed and not made worse by time and trial, not left to become disjointed. Our rush through the Narrow Gate is not a test of physical strength, nor is it a marathon of virtue. The narrowness of the gate is a test of our determination, a trial against a tepid heart and irresolute mind. The narrowness of the gate challenges the sharpness of our focus on being among the blessed who will be called upon to sacrifice everything for Christ's sake, everything for the love of just one friend. It is not enough that we have been to dinner with the Lord; that we have shouted his name from a crowd; that we have witnessed his miracles, praised his preaching, memorized his teaching, or invited ourselves to recline at his table. It is not enough that we are respectable, well-educated, middle-class, religious, worthy citizens of a civilized nation. We might manage to squeeze our respectability, our diplomas, our tax forms and churches and passports through that Narrow Gate, but none of these will assist in the squeezing. Yes, we will likely end up on Mrs Turpin's bridge, heading into the clouds with all the other freaks and lunatics, but we will end up there b/c we have placed ourselves at the mercy of God to forgive us the sins that impede us, that slow us down, and all but guarantee that we do not make the gate in time.

Mrs Turpin sees her own people on that bridge. Somewhat bewildered by the strange company of white trash and black folks, her tribe of middle-class church-goers nonetheless sing on key: “Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.” Perhaps what will get us through that Narrow Gate is the willingness to have everything that seems so vital, so necessary, so absolutely true. . .to have all of it burned away.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe

30 October 2012

New Rosary

Here's a pic of my new rosary. . .made by the holy Dominican nuns of Summit, NJ.

My thanks and blessings to the Good Sisters!

29 October 2012

Be imitators of God

30th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Brothers and sisters, be imitators of God. . .as [His] beloved children. . .live as children of light!” Now, either Paul thinks very highly of the Christians in Ephesus and decides to praise them; or, he figures that they're a hopeless cause anyway so he might well set the bar as high as he can. Be imitators of God? Living as children of the light is tough enough, but living as imitators of God? That seems. . .ummm. . .extreme, even for Paul. Not known for his restraint when it comes to preaching the Good News and living the gospel, even Paul would have to admit that creatures—especially rational creatures—would do well to set their spiritual goals a little closer to “being good” and not so close to “being God.” Of course, he's not suggesting that we go off into the void and create a universe from nothing; or populate a planet using nothing but dirt and a rib; or terrorize a slave-owning tyrant with ten deadly plagues. Basically, all he's saying is that we should imitate—in our impeccably imperfect fashion—all those divine attributes in which God excels—love, mercy, compassion. Maybe, just maybe, Paul isn't being so unreasonable after all. 

Paul opens this section of his letter with an admonition: “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” That should sound familiar to those who pray the Our Father on occasion. He continues with this blockbuster: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. . .” So, as the well-loved children of God, we are admonished to imitate God's moral excellence as only those who have given themselves to Him as children can do. Then he writes, “Live in love.” How? “As Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering. . .” We live in Christ's love by imitating the love that led him to offer himself in sacrifice for our sins. This can only mean one kind of love: agape. That kind of love that demands personal sacrifice. To make sure that we all understand that he's being deadly serious here, Paul adds, “Immorality, impurity, greed must not even be mentioned among you. . .no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk.” When we speak, it should be to give God thanks. Thanks for what exactly? For showing us how to love one another in sacrifice; to love one another as Christ does, to the point of surrendering our lives to make one another holy. 

Paul's admonishment that we live as imitators of God would be ridiculous if we had to do so out of our own moral goodness. Our fallen human nature bends us to self-preservation rather than generosity. But it's not out of our fallen nature that we think, speak, and behave. We are dead to this world but risen with Christ. As such, we are both human and divine—imperfectly so, just yet—but nonetheless participants in the dual nature of Christ as his adopted brothers and sisters. We can imitate Christ. Without him we can do nothing good. Since we do good things all the time, we know that we must do those good things with him. When we love, we participate in Love Himself. When we are merciful, we participate in Mercy Himself. When we show compassion, we participate in Compassion Himself. Every single time we imperfectly think, speak, or behave like Christ, we participate in Christ himself. We were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. What light we shine comes from Christ through us. And that's the job we vowed to do: to be living, breathing lamps for the light of Christ in a world of darkness. So, as beloved children, go, be imitators of God! 

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

Thanks. . .and a disappearing act

My mendicant thanks to Kathleen H. of VA for sending me Christ-Centered Biblical Theology.

Also, my thanks to the anonymous Book Benefactor who sent me Carpathia and Primate Behavior

NB.  I keep changing the format/colors/etc. of the blog b/c I'm trying to get the nav bar to show at the top.  It's disappeared again.  Very strange.  It shows when I use I.E. and it shows when I use Firefox on my office computer.  Gggrrrrrr. . .

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

28 October 2012

"Take courage. . .Jesus is calling you"

30th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

Looking out over the crowd gathered here this morning/evening, I wonder: why are you people here? Is it duty? Habit? Did mom and dad drag you out of bed? Maybe you aren't sure why you're here. I'd say you're here for the fellowship; for a time and place away from the secular world, for a chance to visit with God in prayer; to make a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; to hear the Word proclaimed and preached; to offer Christ on his altar. Like Bartimaeus, we are here, waiting on a roadside for the Son of David to pass. We are blind, crippled, proud, cold-hearted, angry, anxious, lost in sin. But we’re here. We are the disciples on the road. And we are Bartimaeus, shouting to the Lord for his gifts! We are here to receive courage and strength and mercy. We are here because we heard the call, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” And now we hear him say to Bartimaeus and to us, “What do you want me to do for you?” Stop right now and answer that question—in the silence of your heart and mind—answer the question: what do you want, what do you need Christ to do for you?

So, here we are. Standing in a crowd on the road that leads out of Jericho. Someone said that Jesus and a big group of his disciples were headed this way. We want to see this guy b/c we've heard about his miracles and his brawls with the Pharisees. Maybe he'll exorcise a demon or turn some water into wine! He's getting close. The shouting is getting louder and folks are starting to push into road. Somebody yells out, “It's Jesus of Nazareth!” Then Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who's always hanging around, jumps up and start wailing, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” We try to shut him up b/c he's always ranting on about one thing or another. Jesus hears him and says to one of his guys, “Call him.” The disciple goes over to the crazy old coot and says, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Bartimaeus jumps up and runs over, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” I'm thinking: I wish he'd ask me that question! A sack of gold coins would be nice. Maybe a better looking wife. Or a big herd of cattle. What does Bartimaeus say, “Master, I want to see.” Well, for a blind man, sight is a treasure. Jesus answers him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

So, here we are. Sitting here in St. Dominic's Church. Two and many more are gathered together in Christ's name, and he is with us. He's here in the Blessed Sacrament. He's here in his priest and his people. And he asks us the same question he asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” In the silence of your heart and mind, what do you say to him? Before you settle on your answer, let's pay a little more attention to what Jesus says in response to Bartimaeus' request. Bartimaeus wants his blindness healed. Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Notice: he didn't say, “Your faith has healed you,” or “Your faith has restored your sight.” He says, “Your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus receives more from Christ than his sight; he receives salvation, wholeness, a complete repair of his broken relationship with the Father. In that one declaration, Bartimaeus is made righteous before God and brought into the holy family as an adopted son, a brother to Christ, and co-heir of the Kingdom. He could not see what he was made to be in Christ, but he believed and called out to Jesus in faith. He receives God's freely offered gift of mercy to sinner. And now, he sees clearly and follows Christ along the Way.

What do you want, what do you need Christ to do for you? Before you settle on your answer, let's pay a little more attention to another part of Jesus' response to Bartimaeus' request. When Bartimaeus asks Jesus to heal his blindness, Jesus says to him, “. . .your faith has saved you.” Notice: he doesn't say, “Your begging has saved you,” or “Your persistence has saved you.” He says, “Your faith has saved you.” Setting aside for a moment the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, how does he know that this blind man he's never met has faith? Bartimaeus confesses his faith in Christ when he shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Naming Jesus “the Son of David” is his confession of faith. Every Jew knows that the Messiah will be the son of David, and asking Jesus for his compassion is a sign of trust. Bartimaeus believes that Jesus is the Christ, and he acts on this belief, uniting his heart and mind into single public confession that saves him and heals his blindness. In thanksgiving for the gift of sight and salvation, Bartimaeus “followed [Christ] on the way,” not only tagging along with the other disciples but also following his teachings and living as Christ for others.

A blind man is saved by his faith in Christ. Others are healed of their disabilities, their diseases, and their demons. All by faith in Christ Jesus. By faith we are saved, brought into righteousness with God, and made holy. This “faith-stuff” is pretty powerful, uh? What is it exactly? We use the word all the time. We're urged to have faith. Share faith. Rely on faith. Defend the faith. Keep the faith. And we seem to know what we're talking about. We've all heard the famous definition of “faith” from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Augustine says that "faith is a virtue whereby we believe what we do not see.” Dionysius says that "faith is the solid foundation of the believer, establishing him in the truth, and showing forth the truth in him.” St Thomas Aquinas assures us that all of these definitions are true, and then adds his own: “to believe is an act of the intellect assenting to the truth at the command of the will” (ST II-II 4.5). My heart (will) commands my mind (intellect) to give its assent to the truth. This is the human act we call “to believe.” Faith, then, is the virtue (the good habit) of willing myself to believe the truth, especially the truth of the Good News that God freely grants His mercy to all sinners. This habit of trusting God's mercy forms the foundation upon which is built everything that I am and everything that I will become.

If you will to be healed; if you will to be whole; if you will to be made righteous; if you will to see and hear and speak the Good News, then you must also will to believe in the truth that Jesus, the Son of David, is the long-promised Messiah, the Christ. And you must will to act on this belief and confess it whenever possible. What do you want, what do you need Christ to do for you? If your faith is weak or shallow, if your faith is lukewarm or fleeting, ask Christ and receive from him the courage and the strength to stand up, to stand firm, and to stand out as a beloved child of the Father: a child washed pure of sin and death; a child graced in mercy, blessed by hope, and gifted with every good gift given under Christ. The Psalmist has us sing, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!” The Lord has done great things for us. And when we give Him thanks and praise for our lives, our family, our friends; for our salvation through His Christ, and for our faith, we are filled with joy. So, take courage; get up, Jesus is calling us to join him along the Way, on the way back to his Father's house, to His joy and to His peace.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->