28 December 2012

Christmas Update

Christmas dinner was a lot of fun.  My family is loud, boisterous, and very funny.  The main course was casserole.  Many casseroles gave up their lives for our celebrations.  Oh, and there was ham. 

Going to see The Hobbit this afternoon with a friend from my seminary days.  

If I manage to sit still for 3hrs it will be a miracle.

Yesterday I took The Nieces out to do a little post-Christmas shopping.  I can honestly say that this was my first time shopping with two teenage girls in a costume jewelry store. Who knew such a thing even existed???

When I left NOLA on the 25th it was 74 degrees.  Now it is 33 in N. MS. Truly, I made some bad wardrobe choices.  Yikes.

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26 December 2012

Rain, wind, snow. . .home at last!

Made it home yesterday (25th) right on time. . .

Just as I got a little north of Ponchatoula, LA a line of thunderstorms let loose. I managed to stay a ahead of the worst of it until I got to Jackson, MS.

Then. . .POW!. . .torrential rain, wind, lightning/thunder. Yikes! Cars on I-55 were creeping along at 35-40MPH. At one point I hit a spot of deep water and skidded. Needless to say, my prayer life intensified at that moment.

Radio stations all along the way were broadcasting those blaring/honking emergency messages about tornadoes. Just to enhance my harrowing driving experience, I listened to several screaming Pentecostal preachers railing against the world. How anyone manages to get that level of intensity and volume going for long is a mystery.

About thirty minutes north of Jackson, the rain stopped and all was well under I got home. Scuba Mom had a plate of homemade pralines waiting for me.  :-)

There's a light coating on snow on the ground this morning. 

The Redneck Squirrels are still in hiding. Chickens.

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25 December 2012

The Nativity: God's plan to bring you home

Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity (Day)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We start: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” Let there be day and night; let there be water above and water below; let be sky and earth; beasts wild and tame, birds, and crawling things; and let there be Man, male and female, created in the image and likeness of their Creator. With God, at the beginning, when He created everything that is, was the Word, and “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” It is this Word-at-the-beginning that we come together this morning to honor, adore, and welcome. Not the Word in majesty and splendor; not the Word in his brilliant glory, but the Word-given-flesh: the child, Jesus Christ, the infant son of Joseph and Mary. His birth among us reveals a narrow path, a way and a means back to God's glory and truth. To those who receive him he gives power to become children of God. 

We honor, adore, and welcome Christ-dwelling-us; we accept and receive him as Lord so that we may become children of God. Of all the ways available to God to make us into His children, why did He choose to send His only-begotten Son among us as a child? The complete answer to this question won't be available to us until we see God face-to-face; however, our Holy Father, Benedict, gives us a glimpse, a partial answer. In his Midnight Mass homily in Rome yesterday, the Holy Father said, “. . .it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him. . .It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you. . .So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.” We must remember that the incarnation of the Son was not the first time that God had tried to bring His human creatures back to Him. He appeared in glory to Moses. He guided His people out of slavery in Egypt as a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke. He sent one prophet after another to accuse His people of spiritual adultery and injustice and preach repentance. He sent the Law and demanded obedience. And over and over again, His people misheard, misread, disobeyed, rebelled. And over and over again, He forgave them and restored them to His grace. What we needed was a permanent solution. 

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews notes this turbulent history and points to just such a solution: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son. . .” All that had been revealed by God before the birth of the Christ is partial, incomplete. Just quick glimpses behind the veil that separates the Creator from His creation. With imperfect knowledge, and using broken human nature, we were unable to come fully back to God, unable to achieve—even with the help of the Law and the Prophets—we were unable to attain the perfection we were made to enjoy. Having willed that we once again enjoy the original justice of the Garden, God saw that it would be good for us to have perfect knowledge of His plan and a mended human nature to use this knowledge. To achieve this, He made the unique and final revelation of His plan for our salvation into a flesh and bone human child. Not only would this child show us the way back to God, he would be the way back, the only way back to our Eden. The key to His plan is the Christ Child and the virginal teenaged girl who gave him birth. 

What does the Christ Child reveal to us? John writes, “From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” From the fullness of Christ—from this one divine person with two natures: one human, one divine—from his fullness, we have been given one gift upon another, one grace after another. We have been given perfect human knowledge of God's plan for our salvation from sin and death. We have been given a map to follow along the Way. We have been given the Truth of this world and our place in the world to come. We have been given Life and life eternal. And we have been given all this for no reason than that God loves us as His children and wills that we live with Him forever. All there is to do is to freely receive all that He has freely given and then dwell as Christ does among the living and the dead. To make our reception of these gifts both fearless and complete, God sent His only-begotten Son to live among us as one of us. And he gifted us with a Blessed Mother who bears us up to His throne as one of her own to commend to us to His mercy. Christ and his mother bring into this world the unique and final revelation of God. 

We start again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” His light shines in the darkness of sin and death, showing all who choose to see a Way to Truth and Life. For those who choose to see, and in seeing choose to follow, he makes a promise of life eternal. And so, we gather here this morning to honor, adore, and welcome him among us as one of us. And in eating his body and drinking his blood, we pledge ourselves to leave this place, taking him out into the world as a wonder and a revelation. God the Father through the Holy Spirit placed the Son in the virginal womb of Mary. She is our mother and our model when she says to Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Leave this place then with your heart and mind left open to her example; leave here knowing, feeling, and believing that God loves you and wants you to live with Him forever. Leave here with the Blessed Mother's surrender resounding in your body and soul. And come back—again and again—to give Him thanks for His Christ, to give Him praise for His plan to bring you home. 

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24 December 2012

Merry Christmas (from the squirrels)

A Very Merry Christmas to all HancAquam readers!

Your prayers this year have been exceedingly fruitful. . .more on this later.

It has been my privilege to think/pray/preach with you this last year.

May God's blessings flow freely over you and may you have the good sense to receive them!  ;-)

I am off to MS to dwell amongst the squirrels for a few days.  There will be pecan pie, sweet potato casserole, and lots of HGTV, no doubt.

Please, continue praying for me and mine as we grow in holiness!

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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God is with us (Vigil)

Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity (Vigil)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Every religion in human history has its prophets, mystics, saints, avatars, bodhisattvas, miracle-workers, and gurus. By whatever name they are called, these human-divine combos serve the same general purpose: to bring the natural world of man into closer contact with the supernatural world of the divine. The idea seems to be that closer human contact with the divine will somehow “save” or “redeem” or “enlighten” the lost, the ignorant, and the just plain evil among us. Most religious traditions claim to be founded on revelation or some sort of mystical experience. Most have the expected accoutrements of worship: clergy, laity, sacred texts, prayer, temples/churches, vestments, etc. And most claim a certain exclusive access to universal truth and goodness. However, of all the religions currently practiced in the world, only one claims to follow an incarnated god; only one can credibly claim that its founder and central figure of worship walked among us a person, fully human and fully divine. We call the arrival this person in human history, “The Nativity of the Lord.” And it is this event that we remember and celebrate this evening. Once again, we welcome the Christ, Emmanuel, “God is with us.” 

For our welcome to be truly sincere, it's important that we understand—to the degree possible—who it is that we are welcoming among us. A good start on this understanding would be to identify who we are NOT welcoming. We are not welcoming a person who is half and half, half human and half divine. Nor is he man with a human body and divine soul. Nor is he really just a man with a divine mind; nor a god who has taken on the appearance of a man. Or, as the current theological fashion argues, an enlightened man who had evolved beyond being merely human. The Church has considered all of these possibilities and rejected them as heresy. In fact, all of these possibilities for understanding the nature of Christ were rejected in the year 451 A.D. by the Council of Chalcedon. For at least 1,561 years, the Church has taught and defended a single view on the nature of the Christ, the Chalcedonian Formula. This formula explains part of the Nicene Creed: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father. . .” Christ is consubstantial with the Father, meaning Christ and the Father are of the same substance, the identical divine nature. Thus, Emmanuel, “God is with us,” is the perfect name for Christ. 

Now, why in the world am I pestering you on Christmas Eve with a mini-lecture on christology? Well, here's why: the Chalcedonian Formula does more than simply define the true nature of Christ—tell us who Christ is. By telling us who Christ is, the formula also tells us Christ's purpose—what it is he came among us to do. And giving us these two bits of info about Christ helps us to welcome him with true sincerity. The Formula reveals that Jesus Christ is a divine person, the Son of God, with two natures: one human and one divine. By comparison, each one of us is a human person with just one nature, human. Because Christ is a divine person with both a divine and a human nature, he is uniquely placed in our salvation history to be the one (and the only one) to bring us into full union with God. Here's how the CCC puts it: “The Word became flesh to make us 'partakers of the divine nature'.” Then quoting St. Athanasius, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (n. 460). So, when we welcome Christ among us at his Nativity, we also welcome among us our only means of attaining perfect union with our heavenly Father. 

Knowing all this, we might ask: what was preventing the possibility of perfect union before Christ's nativity? Simply put: sin; or rather, no perfect means of forgiving sin. Look at the gospel. Joseph is thinking about divorcing Mary b/c she's pregnant before they have consummated their betrothal. In a dream, an angel of the Lord visits Joseph and lays out for him exactly who it is that his wife is carrying in her womb. The angel says, “Joseph do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Thus, we have the two natures of Christ: the divine from the H.S. and the human from Mary, herself immaculately conceived. The angel continues, “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The divine person of Christ is the means by which God's people are saved from their sins, the sins that prevent us from being in perfect union with the Father. Again, we not only welcome the birth of the Christ Child tonight, we also welcome the birth of the possibility of becoming a child of God as well. The first step along this path is to open your heart and mind to the H.S. and follow Mary's humble example, saying with her, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” 

This resounding “fiat” highlighted Mary in history like no other woman had ever been before or since. She has been known through the centuries by many exalted titles and she is known now by many more: God-bearer, Mother of God; Mater Dolorosa, Mater Gloriosa; Mediatrix of All Graces; and Queen of Heaven. Though all theologically sound and historically accurate, these titles tempt us to forget a vital fact. We must remember—especially on the eve of Christ's nativity—that Mary was a teenaged girl, a virgin betrothed to Joseph and placed at the center of a cosmic drama that brought to fulfillment some 5,000 yrs of God's plans for mankind. If we welcome among us tonight the birth of the Christ Child, then we must also gives our thanks to Mary for her faithfulness, her courage, and her strength in the face of what we can only imagine was a harrowing adventure, a truly frightening and rewarding journey toward perfection. She is the model for how the Church best responds to the Father's invitation to live with Him forever. And as such, she is also the model of each one of us as we choose and pursue the narrow path toward holiness. 

We give Emmanuel a sincere welcome. We give thanks to Mary. We offer the Father our praise and the H.S. an invitation. And as we continue our welcome, we also pray. What should we pray for on this Holy Night? The Chief Shepherd of the Church, Pope Benedict, urges us to pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.” 

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23 December 2012

Awaiting his coming in peace

4th Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Through his prophet, Micah, the Lord God promises, “. . .from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. . .He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD. . .he shall be peace.” This promise was made almost 800 years before the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem. Between the making of this promise and the birth of Christ, eighteen generations of God's people waited and waited and waited for its fulfillment. And when the Lord God placed His only-begotten Son in the virginal womb of a teenaged Mary, and she bore him into the world as a squalling baby in a barn, who could blame God's people for their disappointment and their turning away to wait some more? Rulers are born to kings and queens. Strength comes from wealth. Peace is settled with a sword. Babies born to working class bumpkins from the sticks do not grow up to rule God's people. And so, the waiting continues. For those of us who see in the Christ Child a ruler of strength and peace, the wait is almost over. Just two days and our wait is over. Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. Blessed are those who wait upon the Lord. 

Speaking strictly for myself, patience is not a virtue; it's more like a penance, a trial, or even a punishment. Being patient requires a level of “letting go” that I find extraordinarily difficult to master. Over the years, I've gotten better at enduring the obvious flaws of others. No one's perfect after all. Me included. But, of course, my own flaws never inconvenience anyone else. The truest test of patience ever invented by the Devil is called “Driving in New Orleans.” Second to this test is the one called “Parking in New Orleans.” Either one of these tests alone would wear a hole in the patience of the Virgin herself and both of them together would likely cause Jesus to return in the Apocalypse earlier than planned. Fortunately, for the sake of my holiness and humility, I am tested often enough to notice that patience in waiting can—sometimes—actually be virtue: the good habit of letting go and waiting upon the Lord. If Lent is that time before Easter when we are consigned to wait upon the Lord's resurrection, then Advent is our time to wait upon his birth. As Christians, our waiting is not polluted by impatience. We know he is coming. Rather, our patient waiting is flavored by anticipation. 

Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. What has the Lord spoken to us? What word of His do we believe will be fulfilled? Through His prophet, Micah, He says, “. . .from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. . .He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord. . .he shall be peace.” He also says through Micah, “. . .the Lord will give [Israel] up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne. . .” The time between the delivery of this prophecy and its fulfillment in the delivery of the Christ Child by Mary is the Advent of Israel, that long season of waiting between hearing the good news of a future Messiah and his arrival among us. Eight hundred years of anticipation, eight hundred years of waiting and waiting. If hopeful anticipation spices the main event, then the birth of Christ was well-seasoned! However, we know that his arrival—his humble start—was a disappointment to most of those who had patiently stood by. Perhaps they had forgotten the last sentence of what the Lord had said to Micah about the coming of the Messiah, “He shall be peace.” What sort of king comes to deliver his people from oppression using a sword of peace? 

God's people waited for eight hundred years for the coming of the promised Messiah. Some—those who do not follow the Christ—wait still. And even though the Messiah has been born to the virgin as prophesied, and even though we who follow Christ no long wait for his arrival in history, we still wait for the advent of his universal peace. We don't need a recitation of recent global and domestic events to know that we are far from the peace promised by the birth of the Savior. If anything, violence and death seem to be taking the upper hand. It is not too much for us ask: how much more strain can civilization bear before it cracks and falls apart? When we ask questions like this, and when we expect answers in concrete terms (days, weeks, months), we tend to forget that as followers of the Prince of Peace our hope, the fulfillment of God's promise of peace, is not to be found on a watch or a calendar. It's not found in the workings of the State, the laboratory, the classroom, or the battlefield. Our hope, the fulfillment of God's promise of peace, rests solely in the kingdom Christ brought with him to that barn in Bethlehem, the same kingdom he will bring to completion when he comes again. “He shall be peace,” and he is our peace until he comes again.

There's an obvious danger to this way of thinking. If we are simply waiting for the universal peace of Christ to arrive when he comes again, then we can be sorely tempted to adopt a “do-nothing” quietism; that is, we are poked and prodded by the sheer overwhelming horror of violence and death to stand aside and gamble our lives away on the off-chance that God will “do something” about this mess. So often we hear people ask after a disaster, “Where was God?” The assumption being that if God really existed or really cared, none of this horrible stuff would've happened. We waited on your help, Lord, and you never showed. Perhaps the most frustrating part of being a follower of Christ is knowing that help for our world is coming but that it did not arrive in time. Of course, help did arrive in time. He arrived 2,000 years ago as a child born in a barn. What we are waiting on now is our own growth in holiness, our own progress toward the righteousness that he made possible by his death and resurrection. If we want peace now, if we want help now, then we must be that help and that peace in his name. We cannot be both freed from our fallen nature by grace AND free from the consequences of that fallen nature. If we will be free to follow him in peace, then in peace we must follow His will and word. 

Just two days and our wait is over. Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. Blessed are those who wait with anticipation upon the Lord. Elizabeth blesses Mary b/c Mary believed Gabriel's word to her. She says Yes to being the Mother of the Christ Child and comes down to us in the faith as the Blessed Virgin Mary. For an example of humility and peace, we need to look no further than the fervor with which this teenaged girl freely accepted the harrowing mission of bearing the Word made flesh into the world. As a good Jewish woman, Mary knows words of the prophets. She knows who it is she is carrying in her womb. She runs to Elizabeth in haste to greet her cousin, and all of her hopes are fulfilled when Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” With the birth of Christ 2,000 yrs ago and with our celebration of his Nativity in two days time, we too are blessed. We have seen the glory of God in the face of a child and what we saw there has freed us to await the coming of his peace. 

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On being temporally cheated

I need an alarm clock with bigger LED numbers.

Woke up this morning, glanced at my clock:  3:55.

Since I usually get up at 4.00 anyway, I rolled out of bed and headed downstairs for a big cup of coffee.

Back in my room to check email, etc. After a while I glanced down at my laptop clock: 3:50.


Apparently, the bedside clock had read 3:25 not 3:55.  I was cheated out of 30 minutes of sleep by the tiny numbers on a clock!

As they say, "First World problems. . ."

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