15 December 2012

Ministering to the traumatized

While in the studium (seminary) I served as a chaplain to the E.R./Trauma Unit at St Louis University Hospital during the summer of 2002.

One afternoon I was called to the E.R. to minister to a family who's 52 y.o. mother had been brought into the hospital for heat stroke and a possible heart attack.

When I got the E.R. but before I saw the family in the waiting room, the charge nurse told me that the woman was D.O.A. 

I went out to the family. . .introduced myself. . .and sat down with them to wait.  More family members arrived while we waited.

After about a 20 mins the E.R. doc came into the waiting room and told the family that their mother had died of a massive heart attack.

They erupted in grief. I just sat there.

When the worst of the grieving had ebbed a bit, I said, "Would you like to see her?"  They said, "Yes."

I went to arrange a visit for the family.  When we entered the room, the family started crying again.  I just stood there. One of the older members of the family said, "Let's pray."  We all held hands and the man prayed.

I walked them back out to the E.R. waiting room and spoke briefly with the oldest daughter about how to arrange for her mother's body to be transported to the funeral home.  

They left.

The next day the director of pastoral care called me into her office and told me that a couple of the family members had called her about my service to the family.  She told me that they raved about my ministry to them and wanted to invite me to the funeral.  She congratulated me on a job well done.

I was stunned, frankly.  In all, I'd spoken maybe 30 words the whole afternoon. And nothing I said was in any way "pastoral" or "spiritual." I didn't even initiate or lead the prayer!  My silence wasn't a stroke of wisdom or even a plan. I didn't know what to say. . .I had nothing to say.

Lesson: when ministering to folks who've been traumatized by the death of a loved one, keep your mouth shut.  Just be there with them.

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14 December 2012

How not to become a fool. . .

St John of the Cross
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The English verb “to vindicate” comes from the Latin vindicare, meaning, “to lay claim to,” or more forthrightly, “to avenge.” A vindex is an avenger, the one who lays claim to justice when an injustice has been done. And “to be vindicated” is to receive justice after having been wronged. This little lesson in entomology etymology helps us to understand what Jesus means when he says, “Wisdom is vindicated by her works.” If wisdom is vindicated by her works, then what injustice has wisdom suffered that needs to be avenged? Jesus is accusing his generation of being fickle, attention-deficient children who can't figure out who they want him and John the Baptist to be. John comes out of the desert neither eating nor drinking and they call him demon possessed. Jesus comes out of Nazareth both eating and drinking and they call him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend to tax collectors and sinners! God's wisdom, which John preaches, is avenged by the miracles Jesus performs. And both John and Jesus—and all who follow him—will be vindicated on the Last Day. Until then, how do we—who claim to follow Christ—live in God's wisdom among the Devil's fools w/o becoming a fool ourselves? 

Thriving among the Devil's fools are a whole circus of distractions, snares, and tar pits. Some are designed to slow us down, others to kill us outright. Most, however, are created to keep us very much alive as newly minted fools. Our medieval brothers and sisters identified seven of these deadly traps. Each a snare waiting for an unwary soul. What they called Pride, the fools now call Self-esteem. Like pride, self-esteem has its proper, holy uses. The trap is snapped, however, when self-esteem becomes bloated with unearned entitlement and petulance. Lust is now Sexual Liberation. Our sexual appetites are a holy gift from God. But the fools have “liberated” sex from its divine purpose, turning God's creating gift into a recreating hobby. Envy wears the mask of Social Injustice. When you have what I want, I'm not envying you; I'm simply demanding social equality and just reparations. Wrath is no longer disordered anger but Righteous Rage. Gluttony is now Consumer Preference. Sloth is “I'm Spiritual But Not Religious.” And Greed is just Good Business Sense. The Devil gives his fools a particular talent: the ability to tweak every Good just enough to hide his temptations but not enough to expose his evil. 

So, how do we—who claim to follow Christ—live in God's wisdom among the Devil's fools w/o becoming a fool ourselves? Isaiah prophesies, “Thus says the Lord: I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go.” And what way should we go? Our medieval kin got this one right too. Humility sniffs out the narcissism in Pride. Chastity gives Lust a cold shower. Kindness opens Envy to true justice. Patience quiets and focuses Wrath toward righteousness. Abstinence tames Gluttony's frenzy. Liberality frees Greed to be generous. And Diligence takes Sloth to the gym. Christ says that wisdom is vindicated by her works. And so are we. Thus, our way along the path to holiness includes these works of mercy: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the stranger; clothing the naked; visiting the sick; ministering to prisoners; and burying the dead. Since the Devil can hide his temptations among our works, we are careful to remember that all of our works of mercy are done for the greater glory of God and for no other reason than the greater glory of God. Without His mercy freely given, our works are chaff, useless and vain.

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Attempted murder of 4 OP friars

We received news last night that a man attempted to blow up the Dominican priory in Toronto, Canada.

Fr. Marcos Ramos, OP is a friar of St Martin de Porres Province.  He's studying for a PhD in theology in Toronto and lives at the targeted priory.

St. Michael, defend us in battle. . .

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School Massacre in CT (Updated)

This makes me want to vomit.

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- A shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Friday left 27 people dead, including 18 children, an official said. . .

Join me in prayer this afternoon for these children, their parents, the teachers, and the young man who brought this horror.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host--
by the Divine Power of God--
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.


UPDATE:  And right on cue. . .the Nannies have started clamoring for anti-gun laws.  Here's a question for them:  is murder illegal?  Yes?  So, did anti-murder laws stop this guy from killing 27 people?  No?  Then why do you think that anti-gun laws will stop criminals from using guns illegally?  The school is a "Gun Free Zone."  Didn't stop him.  He was autistic and mentally ill. Laws preventing the sale of guns to the mentally ill didn't stop him.  In fact, what probably helped him kill 27 people was the fact that the school didn't allow licensed, weapons-trained teachers to carry on campus. 

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My thanks to the anonymous Book Benefactor who sent me Crown of Weeds!

An unexpected Advent gift.

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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13 December 2012

The Church needs a Black Friday sale

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

 Jesus preaches to the crowds, highly praising the missionary work of John the Baptist; noting, however, that the smallest saint in heaven is greater than he. Then our Lord says something truly puzzling, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” This pronouncement stumped me. The footnote for this passage in the RSV Catholic Study Bible reads: “Notoriously obscure.” Obscure. Notoriously so. Well then, we'll take the text at face value. Since Jesus is praising John the Baptist as an Elijah figure; and John's the first prophet to come along in 500 yrs (since Malachi in the OT), we can assume that Jesus is pointing out the ravening hungry God's people must be feeling for a prophet to appear among them, and that Jesus is describing their joy at John's arrival—a joy so hungry, so ferocious that it's comparable to a siege on a castle. In other words, John's short ministry of preaching baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins has produced a joyous assault on God's kingdom. John, the first prophet to prophesy in five centuries, announces the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. . .and now God's people are storming the gates of His Kingdom. Would you have been among them? 

Right after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, a damning photo circulated on the internet. On one side of the photo is a pic of a largely empty Catholic church during a Sunday Mass. On the other side of the photo is a pic of a scrambling, rioting hoard pushing its way into a Wal-Mart to buy cheap socks and gadgets. The caption on the photo reads: “Maybe the Pope should consider a Black Friday Sale.” You to have wonder what it would be like if American Catholics—all 66 million of us—would rush our parish church on a Sunday morning, bust down the doors, trample the ushers, and then get into fistfights over who gets to go to confession first and who's up first to take communion in a state of grace! It would be scary. But I'd like to see it. From a distance. So, why doesn't this sort of thing happen? Jesus is telling us that God's people in his day were doing violence to the Kingdom to get in. . .all b/c of John's preaching. Maybe we've come to believe that sin isn't much to worry about? Maybe we've become too confident of our eternal destination? Or maybe we've forgotten what it is that God's freely offers us? 

Well, let's review. Isaiah prophesies, “I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I will help you.'” Who will help us? “Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” And who will the Holy One of Israel help? “I will help you, says the Lord. . .” And why do we need help? “Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel.” (That's not very flattering, but it does capture the depravity that God's people fall into on a regular basis). And how will the Holy One of Israel help us slugs? “I, the Lord, will answer the afflicted and the needy; I will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights. . .turn the desert into a marshland. . .plant in the desert the cedar, acacia, myrtle, and olive. . .” And why will God do all this? “So that all may see and understand, That the hand of the Lord has done this. . .” The promised land is rejuvenated so that all may see the mercy of the Lord. If He brings a dead nation back to life, then He can certainly bring to eternal life one sinner or 66 million sinners. If God's people knew this and believed it—as firmly as they believe in the goodness of a Black Friday sale—the Kingdom would be under siege again. Do you make known the wonders God has done for you? WalMart advertises its low prices. Do you advertise the freely given gift of God's forgiveness, the gift we all so freely enjoy? 

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12 December 2012

“Most blessed are you among women. . ."

NB. I will be hearing confessions tonight at St. Dominic's from 7.00-9.00pm. Fr. Mike and I will be offering confession every Wednesday night at this time during Advent.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Just last week—on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception—we heard the archangel Gabriel declare to Mary, “Hail, full of grace! Blessed are you among women for you have found favor with God.” Tonight we read about Mary's visit to her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, a woman who's been barren her whole life and is now pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary greets her cousin, John leaps with joy in his mother's womb. And Elizabeth, in a fit of wonder and faith confirms the angel's greeting to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. . .Blessed are you [Mary] who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Do you, like Mary, believe that what is spoken to you by the Lord will be fulfilled? And if you believe, do you act in the world as one who has been spoken to by God? 

Elizabeth proclaims Mary “blessed” b/c she—Mary—believed what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. And b/c she believes His word, she submits her will to the will of God and now carries in her womb the Word made flesh. For centuries, almost since the very beginning, the Church has held our Blessed Mother up as the model of Christian service, the model of what it means to say Yes to the Father's invitation to allow His Word to take root in the human soul. If Mary is the model of the faithful Church; and the Church is the Body of Christ; and we are all members of that Body, then it follows that Mary's fiat—let it be done to me according to His word—is also our response to the Father's invitation to welcome and allow His Word to take root in each one of us. If we hear this invitation and raise our own fiat, then Elizabeth's praise of Mary is also her praise for us: “Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled.” Likewise, Mary's response to Elizabeth's praise is our response as well, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” 

Does your soul proclaim the Lord's greatness? Does your spirit rejoice in your Savior? We can all understand why Mary would sing out like this. She's been visited by an archangel. She's been given the Son of God as her child. She's been favored above all women and called blessed. She's got every reason to say that her soul proclaims God's greatness and that her spirit rejoices in her Savior. Why would any of us repeat her proclamation? We've not been visited by an angel or given birth to the Word made flesh or been called blessed and most favored. Oh, but we have. Not in the same way that Mary was, but we have most certainly been given the Word made flesh and blood in the sacrament. And we've heard His Word spoken many, many times at Mass. The question is: do we believe that His Word will be fulfilled? Do we act in the world in a way that demonstrates our belief? If we do, then our souls do proclaim the greatness of God and our spirits do rejoice in our Savior. If you don't, if you don't believe and act on His Word, then there is a way to get right with God. Confession, repentance, and penance: receiving in the sacrament of confession the forgiveness won for us by the Cross and Empty Tomb. 

Sin is the principal means used by the Enemy to prevent us from giving God his dutiful worship and from carrying out our vow to be Christs in the world. Plain and simple. Sin. Disobedience. The Enemy tempts, and we fall. But falling is never a reason to stay fallen. Get back up and receive all that Christ died to freely give you. God loves you and wants you to participate in His divine life. But He will not coerce you; He will not dominate or intimidate us into living with Him. He invites, seduces, exhorts, all but pleads. Confess, repent, and do penance so that you may follow Mary into blessedness. 


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My Vocation Story

I'm re-posting my vocation story (2008) b/c I've been getting questions about it lately. . .and today is a great day for re-posting it.  Our Lady of Guadalupe is my vocational patroness!

I was born a poor white child. . .in rural Mississippi. Sorry, couldn't resist. Nonetheless, it's true.

Both sides of my family are Mississippi delta cotton farmers. Though no one farms now, both of my grandfathers planted cotton. My mother and all of her sisters "chopped cotton." My dad drove a tractor. All of them went to church. My mother's family went to the Baptist Church and my dad's family went to the Methodist Church.

My first memory of church goes back to the sixth grade when my mom and dad sent me and my little brother to Vacation Bible School. Mostly I remember being the only kid that week who had not "accepted Jesus into his heart as his personal Lord and savior." Come Friday, feeling the pressure, I walked the aisle, said the necessary things, and walked back to my pew complete with Jesus. It didn't take.

For the most part my family back then was not a church-going bunch. We went occasionally, but mostly we spent Sundays working in the gardens, the yards, doing necessary work around the house and farm. Sometime my sophomore year, mom and dad decided to start going to church again. They chose a United Methodist Church in the largest town near us. It was the local "bankers' and doctors'" church. Lots of old money. Lots of nice cars. Lots of snooty glances at the rubes from the woods. I hated it. We stopped going after about six months.

That next year I went to Mexico with my junior Spanish class. We cut and sold firewood from my family's property to pay for the trip. Our teacher, a Catholic woman, helped us with the hard labor and with our Spanish. Up until we got to the National Cathedral and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the trip had been a bust for me. My roommates were jerks. I didn't have much money. And my Spanish was rotten. When we arrived at the plaza in front of the cathedral, one of a hundred tour buses packed full of tourists, I stood up and started to the front of the bus like a robot. One more stop, one more site, snap a pic, get back on the cool bus. Little did I know. . .

The second I stepped off the bus, even before my foot hit the pavement, I notices crowds of older women in black on their knees slowly making their way to the shrine. They were praying with these necklaces in their hands. I turned to my teacher and asked what was going on. While she formulated an answer I was horrified to see that these women had bloodied their knees crawling on the gravel and pavement. What kind of religion was this?! My teacher said something about devotion and praying for sons in the drug world and some other things about Mary. I didn't really hear it all.

When we got inside the cathedral, I was overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity and comfort. Just this energetic boost of being home and welcomed. There was a Mass going on. I pestered my teacher for details. She explained what she could. She showed me how to make the sign of cross using holy water. How to kneel. She told me the names of all the fantastical objects in the church--the crucifix, the statues of Mary and the saints, the fonts and confessionals and altars. I was overwhelmed. It was like someone was reminding me of things I had known all my life.

As I look back on that day what I know now is that God trapped me with the sacramental imagination. He was showing me His presence in all the things of this sacred place. I "recognized" them as holy, as set-aside, because without having the words to articulate the feeling, I felt holy as well, loved, wanted. With this feeling still rattling around inside, we walked over to the newly opened Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I knew nothing about this. Nothing at all. The story, once I heard it, didn't impress me all that much. Sounded kinda far-fetched to me. The new basilica was ugly. Stark, angular, modern, cold. Nothing like the near primitive wonder of the cathedral. We saw the relic. Big deal. Move on.

With the vision of the bloody old ladies still in my head and the incense still in my nose. And maybe even a bead or two of holy water still clinging to my forehead, I got back on the bus and started in on my teacher. I pestered her some more about why she was Catholic and where I could get more information and could I come to Mass at her Church and did her Church have classes for people who wanted to be Catholics and on and on and on. . .she good-naturedly answered my questions.

We drove over the mountains to a village called Taxco. A silver mining town for tourists. Our hotel perched on the side of the mountain and my room had a balcony looking out over the valley. At midnight the local set off a stream of fireworks. I went to the balcony. It was very breezy and cold for a Mexican March night. Just standing there alone watching the fireworks I had this sudden sense that everything around me was rushing toward me, almost as if I were falling standing straight up. For just a few seconds I didn't hear anything. Going back to bed, I prayed--something I never did!--and simply asked God to tell me what to do.

I woke up the next morning convinced I should be a priest. After that I started having dreams.

I was vested in red and saying Mass in my high school auditorium.
I was teaching a class and a man called me out of the classroom to say Mass.
I was standing in a sacristy and couldn't find the right vestments.
I was in the middle of saying Mass and the sacramentary was all wrong, misprinted. . .

Eventually, I told my grandmother. She gave me a cigar box full of Catholic paraphernalia: a rosary, prayer cards, a small crucifix, and a "question and answer" catechism, which never left my side. I took it to school and embarrassed myself arguing with the Baptists. Even my teachers got in on the arguments! The stuff in that box became a tangible link for me to the Church.

When my parents found out that I wanted to be a priest, they were a little upset. They put up some resistance at first but eventually gave way. By this time I had gone off to college and joined the Episcopal Church. Why the Episcopal Church and not the Catholic? The E.C. in my college town was an old-fashioned brick building built in the 1830's. Stained glass. Brass fixtures. Beautiful hangings. The priests there wore their clerics. The music was thundering, beautifully sung. The services were "churchy." The Catholic Church in town was easily confused with a dentist office. Built in the late 70's, it was a box with those 7-11 glass doors and the whole "stripped bare" vibe. No statues. No tabernacle. No stained glass. No nothing that identified this building as a Catholic Church. The services were informal to the point of being just slightly more organized than a Baptist picnic. The music was folksy guitar, hand-clapping, tambourine banging. The priest wore ugly, ugly, ugly vestments. There was absolutely nothing solemn, nothing transcendent, nothing attractive about any of it. The choice to become Episcopalian was too easy.

I was baptized in the E.C. in 1982 and confirmed later that year. I immediately went to the rector and told him that I wanted to be an Episcopalian priest. I was 18. He told me to finish my undergrad studies, think about getting a masters, and come back when I was around 24 to discuss the whole thing again. 24?! That was middle-aged!! Anyway, I became very active in my parish. After a few years and well into grad school, I had a falling out with the rector. Being a good Protestant, I stopped going to church in protest. In the meantime, all sorts of ideologies, practices, philosophies, and personalities were drawing my attention.

Since the E.C. offered almost nothing in the way of solid teaching on moral deliberation or anything in the way of substantial intellectual formation, I fell prey to one dubious theology after another. Finally, in my last year of PhD studies, I was convinced that God did not exist. Despite this, I was convinced by a British prof teaching in my department that I should move to the U.K. and become a "red priest," that is, an Anglican priest who rejects theism but works in the church for "social justice" using Marxist/socialist categories as guides.

I decided to take a year out and teach English in China. That was a disaster. However, I came back to the States rededicated to my vocation to become an Episcopal priest. I started the formal discernment process in my diocese--a two year procedural grind that worked to discourage many people by its sheer complexity and futility. I served as the guinea pig postulant for my parish "discernment committee." The whole thing was a farce. At the time, I submitted to it out of a sense of wanting to collaborate and a sense that the Spirit would work through the committee to help me discern my vocation.

The details of the process would be book-length so I'll have to summarize: I spent two years meeting nearly weekly with nine lay people from the parish who asked the same questions over and over again. . .eventually they sent a positive recommendation to the vestry of the parish who then met with me to ask me the same questions over and over again. On the night of the vestry vote on whether or not to send my application to the bishop, every single member of the vestry looked me in the eye and told me that I had his/her support and vote. I went home confirmed in my vocation and ready to start seminary. At around 11.30pm, the rector called to tell me that the vestry had rejected my application. The reason: I had the stuff for making a good priest but just not yet mature enough. I was 28 at the time. The rector could not tell me why those voting against my application had lied to me earlier.

This rejection sent me into an anti-religious tailspin. It was during this time that I pursued my interests in the occult and became more and more enamored with Marxism. I spent two years finishing up doctoral coursework and preparing for comprehensive exams. After passing my orals, the prospectus defense, and suffering through several personal traumas, I left the academic world for a job in the psychiatric world. Once in place in my new home, I began to pursue the priesthood again. This time in another diocese with another parish. At the urging of my parish priest, a woman from Mississippi, I took on a Catholic spiritual director, a Paulist priest in a local parish. Over a year with him I found my Catholic vocation again.

On the national scene, the E.C. was committing suicide with one disastrous lurch away from the historic faith after another. Finally, in 1995, I had had enough and left the E.C. to become a Catholic. I joined the RCC as a liberal High Church Episcopalian, meaning I was formally a Catholic but my theology and church politics were modernist and my liturgical tastes were medieval. I still didn't care for the informal, hippie-dippie Catholic liturgy, but the friendliness and community that the RCC had compared very favorably the chill I felt in the cliquey country club world of the EC.

Once confirmed, I immediately started the process for joining the Paulists. I spent two years in discernment with these guys. On the advice of the vocations director, I quit my excellent job at the hospital and moved home to spend the summer before entering seminary with my parents. I got a job in a local psych hospital and basically spent my free time getting "caught up" on all things Catholic and Paulist. In June of 1998, I came home from work and my mom told me that the Fr. John, the Paulist vocations director, has called and wanted me to call him back. I did. He told me that the president of the Paulists had rejected my application for admission. Fr. John would not tell me why. He said, "They're afraid you will sue us." Apparently, Fr. John should not have encouraged me to quit my job before the final decision about my application was made!

I was devastated. My mom wanted me to drop the whole idea of priesthood. I agreed. I walked around the house that day, saying over and over again, "What am I going to do?" My mom kept crying and telling me to just forget the priesthood, get a job, get an apartment, and be happy doing that. In the meantime, I was injured at work and got a staph infection in the injured site (first lumbar disc). I spent the next seven months in agony--both physical and mental, trying to deal with doctors, hospitals, insurance people. It was during that period of pain, dependence, helplessness, and rebellion that I finally found my niche. Accidentally.

I was browsing an internet site that had an alphabetic listing of links to the websites of men's religious orders. Most of them I had never heard of. I spotted one that intrigued me "Discalced Carmelites." As I went to click on the link, I accidentally clicked on the link for "Dominicans." I was taken to the order's main webpage and it took me all of three minutes to find the US provinces and the southern province. I contacted the vocation director via email and the next day he called to chat with me for two hours. About a week later he came from New Orleans to my parents' house in Mississippi to interview me. We spent six hours together. He offered me an application at the end of the meeting.

What was special about this discernment? Over the years I've complicated the whole affair into something it isn't. For me, the simple truth is this: the Dominicans wanted me. The Episcopalians didn't want me. The Paulist rejected me. The Dominicans wanted me, and they promised to make use of my gifts. I was accepted into the 1999-2000 novitiate class. My acceptance was contingent on my finishing the PhD before July 1999. I wrote furiously from Feb to July, finishing a first draft by the time my plane left. I graduated with the PhD in May of 2000. I was simply professed in 2000; solemnly professed in 2003; ordained deacon in 2004 and priest in 2005.

Smooth sailing the whole way, you ask. Ohhhhh, no. The novitiate was very hard. My studium years were extremely difficult. I made the move from being an ideological Marixist with religious pretensions to being an orthodox Catholic. The move has not been applauded by all of my brothers and sisters in the Order. Sometimes, I get the impression that there is some "buyer's remorse" about accepting my application! However, I have found many brothers and sisters in the Order (from the whole theological spectrum) who share St Dominic's zeal for preaching the gospel and witnessing to the power of God's mercy.

Plans? The phrase "Dominican plans" is an oxymoron. Of course, we plan. But I've rarely seen these plans actually pan out. If I could simply chose my path I would continue teaching undergraduate philosophy, theology, and literature. I am developing a course that brings all three fields together. The University of Dallas is developing a creative writing program that I would probably be willing to hurt someone to join. The Angelicum has a Templeton Foundation grant for a project called "Science, Theology, and the Ontological Quest." The grant brings in scientists, philosophers, and theologians to teach and research on the intersections of science and faith. I'd love to be a part of this. I am also dedicated to adult lay formation at the level of teaching basic theological/philosophical methods. However, preaching, as always, remains primary and any and all of this stuff I've mentioned here is directed solely to the improvement of the preaching. Without that, there is no reason at all for me to be here.

Fr. Philip, OP

P.S. I almost completely forgot to mention what happened with my high school Spanish teacher, Mrs. Mary Eddy! I went home to visit my parents right after I got back from Oxford in 2004. I had been ordained a deacon at Blackfriars and was preparing to move to Houston, TX for my internship. I went to Mass at the local parish, which had moved to a newer building. I went in clerics to the 9am Mass. When I got there I asked around for Mrs. Eddy. It didn't take long before she came running up to me to say hello! She was very surprised to see me and more surprised to me in clerics. She told everyone that she was responsible for bringing me into the Church. Yup, I'd say she was. Goes to show you what just a little encouragement for a young man with a vocation can do. . .right?

P.P.S. Here's a pic of me at the train station in Nov 1990. As you can see, I'm going from Changsha to Shanghai.  

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11 December 2012

No, the world is not ending on Dec 21st

That someone in the Vatican had to waste three seconds to respond to this is slightly embarrassing to the Church.

Vatican: World not ending, despite Maya prediction 

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican's top astronomer has some assurances to offer: The world won't be ending in about two weeks, despite predictions to the contrary. 

The Rev. Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, wrote in Wednesday's Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that "it's not even worth discussing" doomsday scenarios based on the Mayan calendar that are flooding the Internet ahead of the purported Dec. 21 apocalypse.

Yes, Funes wrote, the universe is expanding and if some models are correct, will at one point "break away" — but not for billions of years. But he said Christians profoundly believe that "death can never have the last word." The Mayan Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. The Mayans wrote that the significant 13th Baktun ends Dec. 21.

Just b/c the Mayan astrologers came to the end of their calendar doesn't mean that the world is ending. Calendars run out of dates every year around Dec. 31st. Has the world ended yet? 

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Abortion, contraception, sterilization! All for the Greater Glory of God! AMDG!

How many times do we have to endure the End of the World?

"Is comparing Obama’s policies to dinosaurs racist?" Depends. . .does doing so help the Narrative?

The Road to Serfdom illustrated.

Speaking of serfdom: ". . .social studies. . .seeks to adjust [the child’s individual potential] to the mediocrity of the social pack.

New Atheism fail: To promote critical thinking one must actually think critically.

"Casual worship" fail: why get out of bed on Sunday to attend services at a spiritual Starbucks?

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10 December 2012

However difficult: go to confession!

2nd Week of Advent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The Lord and His creation is very busy: exulting, blooming, rejoicing, singing, strengthening, firming, seeing, vindicating, recompensing, opening, clearing, leaping, bursting, walking, meeting, fleeing. Isaiah prophesies the deliverance of Israel from captivity and exile. Not only will God's people be set free from their long alienation and returned home, the land itself will be rejuvenated, released from its droughted sterility and made again into a sign of divine promise. The fertile abundance of the promised land is God's promise of abundant fertility for His people. But being set free from slavery and exile—though welcomed—can be frightening. Restoring a lost nation and reviving the proper worship of God is daunting, scary. So, Isaiah prophesies, “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.” If the Church hopes to see her restoration, her revival, we will follow the example of the paralyzed man's friends and find a way—however difficult—to bring ourselves to the healing touch of Christ. 

We started this Advent season two weeks ago on a rather dramatic note: John's visions of the apocalypse and Christ's own warnings of his second coming. Just yesterday—the 2nd Sunday of Advent—we heard read Isaiah's prophecy of John the Baptist's mission to preach repentance and baptize for the forgiveness of sins. This week we will hear Christ tell his disciples that he came to save the one sheep that gets lost. We'll hear Mary cry out her YES to the Father's invitation to become the mother of His Word. We'll hear Christ extol John the Baptist's prophetic ministry, and we'll hear him tell us that the worth of wisdom is to be found in her works. This week of Advent we will be shown again and again the need for turning ourselves toward the Lord and his Word; the need for receiving his mercy and love; the need for producing the fruits of righteousness in the world so that the world might see His glory and turn to Him as well. If you hope to see your faith vindicated, energized, you will follow the example of the paralyzed man's friends and find a way—however difficult—to bring yourself to the healing touch of Christ. You will find a way to make use of God's forgiveness and receive His mercy in the sacrament that reconciles us all to Him. 

The man's friends are determined to get him to Jesus. The crowd is huge, thick. They can't get his stretcher through, so they climb the building and lower their paralyzed friend through the ceiling and rest him right in front of Christ. Jesus recognizes their faith and says to the man, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.” When the Pharisees object to this, Jesus, asks, “Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk?'” To punch his point home, Jesus says to the man, “. . .rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” And he does. If God can restore a fallen nation; return its people to their land; and revive the fertility of that land; and if he can heal a man's paralysis by forgiving his sins, then restoring you to the abundance of His gifts is easy work. But it is a work He will not do without your help. Our sins are forgiven. Always have been. What we must do—however difficult—is confess those sins and receive the forgiveness we have been given. Then, like the restored promised land, we too can go exulting, blooming, rejoicing, singing, opening, clearing, leaping, bursting, walking, meeting, and giving Him thanks for His great mercy. 

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09 December 2012

All flesh shall see the salvaton of God!

2nd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The Word of God speaks to John—as it had spoken to Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah—calling him out of his desert exile to preach the advent of Jerusalem's salvation, the imminent arrival of the Messiah. John, both a prophet and a herald, travels the whole region of the Jordan, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Our gospel writer, Luke, quotes the prophet Isaiah, “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'” This is the charge given to John: ready the nation, prepare God's people; straighten their minds; soothe their defeats; temper their victories; and smooth the rough roads of their stony hearts to receive the consummation of all prophecy by baptizing with water all those who repent of their disobedience, so that their sins may be forgiven. Are you ready? Is your heart and mind straightened and smoothed? Have you prepared yourself for the coming of the Christ? 

You all know that Advent is meant to prepare us for the coming of the Christ Child. This is that time of the liturgical year when we read and hear all about the preaching ministry of John the Baptist. What you might not know is why Luke quotes Isaiah's ancient prophecy and connects it with John's contemporary ministry of baptism? In other words, why—in the middle of telling us about the start of John's mission—does Luke bring in Isaiah's description of the Jews' return from their Babylonian exile? The two events don't seem to have much in common. Historically speaking, they don't; however, prophetically speaking, the two are directly connected. In the 15 yrs. btw 597-582 BC, some 18,000 Jews were deported from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. In 538 BC, the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, defeated Babylon and gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland, the kingdom of Judea. Isaiah's prophecy, quoted by Luke, is part of a much larger prophecy called the Book of Consolation (Isa 40-55). This is Isaiah's description of his people's homecoming procession, their triumphant parade back to the land promised to them by God. Who leads this procession? God Himself. So, He makes the path home straight, smooth; filling the valleys and leveling the hills. After 60 yrs of hardship in exile, the Lord brings His people home in style! John's mission is to bring God's people to Christ, to make our way to salvation a smooth, non-stop flight to the heavenly Jerusalem. 

Earlier, I asked you if you were ready for the coming of the Christ. Are you prepared to receive him? Writing to the Philippians, Paul prays, “. . .that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness.” Paul is praying that the Christians in Philippi will continue to grow in that kind of love that brings them closer and closer to knowing intimately God's will for them, so that they will be able to distinguish good from evil, and remain wholly innocent until Christ's return. How do the Philippians remain in God's will until the Last Day? They work to produce “the fruits of righteousness,” that is, they bring about, make manifest words and deeds that demonstrate their right relationship with God. It's not enough for them to think good thoughts about Jesus. They are exhorted to produce outwardly, publicly evidence of their spiritual excellence by imitating Christ in the world. And these superior words and works will be spoken and done “for the glory and praise of God” and for no other reason. Paul writes, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it. . .” 

God has begun a good work in you, in all of us, and He intends to complete it. But His good work in each one of us cannot be completed unless we do our share of the heavy-lifting. He will not save us without our help. Over and over again, His people, Israel and Judea, committed adultery with the neighboring gods, sacrificing their righteousness on the foreign altars of oppression and injustice. By falling to their knees before idols, they fell in their holy duties to protect the innocent, the widowed, the orphaned, and the stranger. By worshiping things of their own making, they degraded themselves as things and sought to lift themselves up by pushing down those already pushed out by poverty, disease, and ignorance. Our Lord began a good work in His covenant with Abraham, but Abraham's children failed again and again to take up that good work and work with God's grace to make themselves into a blessed nation. For these failures, God allowed them to be defeated, exiled, and lost among the pagans. Some few remained faithful, and these He brought home. Because they worked with the good work He started in them, these few He returned to their promised land. 

God has begun a good work in you, in all of us, and He intends to complete it. So, how can we use this Advent to prepare for His good work to be completed? First, what good work He has started? For the whole Church, this good work is the work of being Christ in flesh and bone for the world. In other words, the Body of Christ must be the BODY of Christ—the hands, feet, eyes, ears of the Lord, speaking the Word, doing his will among the peoples and nations. For each one of us, this good work is defined by our individual gifts used in the service of the Body. What gifts has God given you? Has He given you a talent? Use it for the gospel. Has He given you time? Spend it on the gospel. Has He given you treasure? Invest it in the gospel. Next, we need to discern what it is that stands in the way of our good work. For Israel and Judea, it was their adultery with neighboring gods. They learned that we all become what we love most. So, what do you love among the idols of our perverse consumerist culture? Violence, death, promiscuity, the financial bottom-line; self-gratification before selfless service; untamed passions; or, do you claim to be a god yourself? In your pride, do you long to become a god w/o God and worship your own ego and id? God will allow it. He will also allow the consequences of our idolatry. 

Are you ready? Are you helping John the Baptist in straightening out your heart and smoothing down your mind? Christ comes to complete in you the good work his Father started. Are you listening to his herald and answering his cry for repentance? Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, they all warned God's people that their disobedience, their spiritual adultery would lead them into the wilderness of exile and defeat. And so it did. God brought them back to their promised land after two generations of living among their enemies, after more than 60 yrs. of purification and penance. Christ's Body, the Church—you, me, all of us together—must be the voice crying out in the desert, calling the world to repentance, calling it away from the edge of self-destruction. But our call is hollow and weak if we ourselves teeter on that same edge. A prophet must prophesy to himself first, and so the Church must preach to herself first. The Advent of the Christ Child is our time to get right with God, to get ourselves realigned with His perfect will, to be filled again with the love that created and re-created us in Christ. Look forward to his birth at Christmas, but look inward as well, look inward toward his birth in you, and love that child like he is your own, then, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God!” 

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