04 May 2014

OP Laity Retreat Essay & A Homily

Here's the primary text we used this weekend at the OP Laity retreat:

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, On the New Evangelization, 2000.

I also gave them this 2008 homily for reflection. It covered some of the themes we explored using this Sunday's gospel reading. 

Octave of Easter (W): Acts 3.1-10 and Luke 24.13-35
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

After nearly twenty decades of exile in the woodshed for barbaric acts against humanity and a slow rehabilitation on the continent with French and German philosophers, I am happy to report that Belief is once again welcomed among us as an acceptable weapon against the encroaching hordes of nihilism. With those hordes shaking the ground right outside our gates, some in the civilized world line up for defense behind the utopian promises of secular scientism; some behind the ever more suicidal versions of Christless Christianity; some behind the absurd absolutes of religious fundamentalism; and some have even come to understand the wisdom of the West’s Catholic heritage and have, as a result, embraced the power of basic belief as the first best step in the dangerous project of shining a bright beacon into the darkness. Luke’s gospel story of meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus greatly clarifies this last option: if our eyes are to be opened, we must first believe and only then will the need for sight disappear.

As the disciples walk to Emmaus, Jesus joins them. Since “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him,” the disciples confess their deepest doubts about the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday: “…we were hoping that [Jesus] would be the one to redeem Israel…” The disciples tell Jesus about his execution, his burial, and the discovery of his empty tomb by the women. They report: “…some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” Jesus’ reaction to their doubt is telling. He doesn’t accuse them of being blind or stupid or deluded. He says to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” Their inability to understand the events of Easter Sunday is rooted in an unwillingness to believe. They went to the tomb to see, but they did not take with them their eyes of faith.

Jesus patiently teaches them—again!—the heart and soul of the prophetic tradition: God will come to His people in the person of a savior. This is a promise fulfilled in their hearing. But it is not until Jesus blesses, breaks, and gives them the bread at table that their eyes are opened and they see. The instant they recognize him for who he is, “he vanishe[s] from their sight.” They believe, they recognize. They see him. And seeing is no longer necessary. Remember just last week or so that Jesus stood before an angry crowd busy gathering stones to throw at him. He urges the crowd to believe in his good works so that they may come to “realize and understand” that he is the Christ sent by the Father. The evidence he offers is only good as evidence if we first believe. This is basic. Comes first. Primary.

Belief is fashionable again b/c we have exhausted the modernist project of scientific absolutes, and we have discovered along the way that for all its usefulness science is a story we tell about the world. Like most stories, it has characters, plots, settings, action. Unlike most stories, it does an excellent job of explaining what we think we see and hear and taste and touch. What it cannot do as a story is tell us about how to live in wonder at creation, how to thrive in love with the very fact of just being-here. Scientism demands that we place our faith in a investigative method. Christless Christianity demands that we place our faith in the bastard children of the hard sciences: sociology, psychology, economics, history. Fundamentalism demands that we place our faith in the infallible genius of the individual’s zeal for absolutes. What does Christ demand? How do those hearts so slow to believe catch fire? As Jesus and the disciples approached Emmaus, Jesus “gave the impression that he was going on farther. But [the disciples] urged him, ‘Stay with us…’ So he went in to stay with them.”

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  1. As St. Anselm of Canterbury is quoted "neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. Nam et hoc credo: quia "nisi credidero, non intelligam."

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    1. Yes, exactly. . .too much of our contemporary theology is seen through a prism. . .rather than being the prism itself.