17 June 2018

Are you courageous?

11th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Paul assures the Corinthians, “We are always courageous. . .for we walk by faith, not by sight.” I wonder if this is true. Are you always courageous? I'm not. I like to think that I am, but I know better. I like to think that if push comes to shove and I am forced to defend the faith with my life I'd do so. I'd like to think that there's no way I would denounce the faith to save my skin, or allow myself to be compromised in such a way that Christ would be dishonored. I'd like to think that. And I hope you think that too. But we can't know how brave we would be if and when the time comes to be tested. Why then does Paul seem so sure that we are always courageous? To walk by faith and not by sight is an act of courage; that is, to navigate this world by trusting in God's loving care for is precisely how our hearts are strengthen for judgment. We are always courageous b/c it is Christ who reigns in the center of our being, our heart. Whatever decisions we make, whatever words we speak, whatever deeds we do, we do it all from the throne that Christ himself occupies – the heart. It is the Christ-ruled heart that sows those tiny mustard seeds to plant the Kingdom of God.

Notice that Jesus picks the smallest seed to teach us about the Kingdom. He could've chosen figs or olives or grapes. He's used grains of wheat before in his parables, so that's an option too. But he chooses mustard seeds. Tiny, rock-hard seeds that produce huge, hearty trees. Trees that can survive in arid soil under a blazing sun. The Kingdom of God is planted, nurtured, and brought to harvest by the rock-hard faith of courageous men and women – men and women tested by temptation and trial and found righteous by judgment. To be among them, we need only allow Christ to rule our hearts b/c only Christ can give us the strength necessary to both survive and thrive in this arid world. Every saint and martyr of the Church started with a mere mustard seed of faith, just a drop of trust in God's loving care. Now they reign with Christ in the Kingdom, perfected and everlasting. That's our goal as well – eternal life with the Father. And it's ours by inheritance if we remain in the family that has adopted us. How do we remain? We persevere in courage. We trust with everything we have and are. We never compromise the truth of the faith. And we love sacrificially, giving it all for the glory of God. 
Paul reminds us how it all ends, “. . .we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive [payment], according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” When in doubt about whether or not you are helping to build the Kingdom, ask yourself: “Does Christ rule my heart?” Ask yourself: “Am I compromising the faith, or am I standing firm on the truth?” “Am I giving in to cynicism, or am I living in hope?” “Have I given everything I have and everything I am to Christ for him to govern?” You are always courageous, and you will always be courageous if you work for the Kingdom and Christ the King sits on the throne of your heart.


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05 June 2018

Awaiting a new heavens. . .

St. Boniface
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
9th Provincial Chapter, Navasota, TX

Brothers, who or what are we waiting on? Who or what are you waiting on? One way of answering this question goes something like this: “I'm waiting on Popeye's to reintroduce its all-you-can-eat Spicy Fried Chicken Buffet.” This sort of answer is all about what I'm wanting and waiting on for the Here and Now. You might say instead, “I'm waiting on funding for my ministry project, or a medical breakthrough for my mom, or for my stingy prior to give me permission to replace my 2011 laptop.” We want and wait on things for the Here and Now. Nothing wrong with that. But if Peter is right, we also want and wait on more than just what we think we need Right Now. He writes, “. . .we await new heavens and a new earth. . .” We await something and Someone greater than ourselves, a time, a place. . .a person “where righteousness dwells.” How does this sort of wanting and waiting move us day-to-day? How does this sort of wanting and waiting move us during this chapter? Are we thinking and deciding in four year increments? Or, are we “waiting [on] and hasten[ing] the coming of the day of God”?

Now, given what Peter says about the Day of God we might not be all that eager to hasten its arrival – “the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.” That might interfere with any plans Popeye's has on expanding their menu! Even more so, it sets our own plans for the Province within an “End Times” context. This does not mean that everything we do and say here is useless. Quite the opposite! It means that everything we do and say here takes on the flavor of that most Christian spice – the eschaton, our final goal as men vowed to preach and teach the Good News of Jesus Christ. When Peter says that we as Christians “await new heavens and a new earth” he means that while we live and move and have our being right here and right now, we also look toward a horizon sharply drawn by the Father's promise of eternal life. Christ has fulfilled that promise for us. Now it's our turn – daily, hourly, in everything we say and do in this chapter – it's our turn to live out that promise. Yes, we see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears. . .BUT we discern and come to understand with the mind of Christ. Therefore, Peter encourages us “to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.”

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29 May 2018

Prayers, please. . .

The Dominican Province of St. Martin de Porres begins its 2018 Provincial Chapter today in Houston with a retreat and a Mass of the Holy Spirit.

We will be electing a Provincial, a provincial council, and setting the agenda of the province for the next four years.

Please pray for us!

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13 May 2018

Go and proclaim! NO EXCUSES!!!

The Ascension of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The Lord's ascension into heaven reveals a truth about his resurrection from the dead. His resurrection reveals a truth about his passion – his trial and torture. His passion tells us something about his life and ministry among us. And his life and ministry tells us a great deal about how and why the Son took on human flesh to become one of us. Therefore, the Lord's ascension reveals a truth not only about who and what Christ is and was, it also reveals a truth about who and what you and I are right now. . .and can be one day. But before we can think too much about where we might be going with Christ sometime in the distant future, we need to think clearly and carefully about what we are doing right now to live out his final charge to us. Right before he is taken up into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, he says to his disciples and to us, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” That's our job description as followers of Christ. Go and proclaim the Good News. In word and deed, in everything we say and do, proclaim God's freely offered mercy to sinners. Are you doing this? Are you witnessing to the power of God's mercy?

If not, why not? There are thousands of reasons and twice as many excuses for not doing what the Lord has commanded us to do. I'm busy. I'm not smart enough. It's embarrassing. People will think I'm a religious nut. Is that the priests' job? Like I said, lots of reasons and excuses. Unfortunately, Jesus didn't say, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. . .unless you find it embarrassing, inconvenient, or frightening.” He said, “Go and proclaim.” And then he ascended into heaven. No time for arguments or appeals. But if you will remember I said earlier on that Christ's ascension reveals a truth about who and what you and I are and will be. When Christ ascended into heaven, he took us with him. Or rather, he made it possible for us to follow. Not only did he make it possible for us to follow him, his ascension made it possible for him to be with us always. After he left them, Scripture says, “. . .they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them. . .” He ascended so that he could be available for us everywhere and at all times, even here and now. So, our reasons and excuses for not bearing witness are weak in light of the fact that Christ is working right beside us, even when we're not doing much at all. 
If you need further prompting to get busy in the business of bearing witness, here's what Paul writes to his fellow Christians, “I. . .urge you to live in a manner worthy of the calling you have received. . .” The calling you have received. Not just the calling that you have been given. BUT the calling that you heard and took on and vowed to carried out. If you are what you eat in this life, then you will be what you honor now in the next life. Again, honoring our vow to bear witness to God's mercy is not a burden. Christ is always here beside us. His ascension guarantees his enduring presence and on-going help. He gives us everything we need to do the job we agreed to do. We just need the courage to receive his help and get to work. We have the Church, the sacraments, the Living Word; we have one another, brothers and sisters in the Spirit, and we have the promise of Christ Jesus himself. There is nothing to fear. Nothing to be embarrassed about. And nothing at all to lose. You are teachers and preachers of the Good News. “Go [therefore] into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

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Holy Name Litany

[NB. Re-posting this by request. . .this is the litany that prompted me to compose two books of litanies, novenas, and an alternative rosary. The books are: Treasuries Holy and Mystical and Treasuries Old and New. They also printed the alternative rosary in pamphlet form: Beatitudes and Beads.

A modified version of the Holy Name Litany. I’ve abbreviated the litany itself, added a few modified traditional prayers, changed the pronouns for individual prayer, and cleaned up the theology a bit. I always find litanies to be a bit “messy” in that they seem to be a bit scattered in their exclamations. For example, rather than starting with the creation of the universe and moving to the resurrection, they often mix up the historical elements with merely pious elements and throw in some affective adjectives. . .why not use the litany for catechesis and start at the beginning?

Holy Name Devotion (for individual use)

Blessed be the most holy Name of Jesus among the stars of heaven! Amen.
Blessed be the most holy Name of Jesus among the creatures of the earth! Amen.
Blessed be the most holy Name of Jesus always and forever! Amen.


Prayer of Saint John Vianney

I love You, O my God, and my only desire is to love You until the last breath of my life.
I love You, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving You, than live without loving You.
I love You, Lord and the only grace I ask is to love You eternally.
My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love You, I want my heart to repeat it to You as often as I draw breath.

The Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me!
Body of Christ, save me!
Blood of Christ, inebriate me!
Water from Christ's side, wash me!
Passion of Christ, strengthen me!
O good Jesus, hear me:
Within Your wounds hide me.
Do not let me be separated from You.
From the malicious enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me
And urge me to come to you
That I may praise you with your saints
Forever and ever. Amen.


Litany of the Holy Name

Jesus, splendor of the Blessed Trinity, brightness of eternal light,
Jesus, Word Made Flesh, Father of the world to come, mighty God,
Jesus, star of justice, Son of Blessed Mary, joy of the Angels,
Jesus, God of peace, author of life, good Shepherd.
Jesus, most powerful, most kind, most admirable,
Jesus, most patient, most obedient, meek and humble of heart,
Jesus, lover of chastity, lover of us all, model of virtue,
Jesus, zealous lover of souls, our refuge, father of the poor,
Jesus, treasure of the faithful, home for sinners,
Jesus, true light, eternal wisdom, ineffable beauty.
Jesus, infinite goodness, our truth, our way and our life,
Jesus, King of the Patriarchs, Master of the Apostles,
Jesus, teacher of the Evangelists, strength of the Martyrs,
Jesus, light of Confessors, purity of Virgins, crown of the Saints,
Jesus, priest, prophet, and preacher,
Jesus, abandoned, betrayed, and beaten,
Jesus, crucified on the cross,
Jesus, resurrected from the tomb,
Jesus, ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father,
Jesus, I AM HE WHO IS!

From your wrath, you spare me.
From the traps of the devil and his dark angels, protect me.
From the spirits of anger, greed, avarice, pride, envy, sloth, and lust, protect me.
From sin and everlasting death, protect me.
From the neglect of your inspirations, protect me.

By the mystery of your Incarnation, you show me my purpose.
By Your Birth, you make me a son of the Father.
By Your Nativity, you teach me to have the faith of a child.
By Your most divine Life, you make me a your disciple and prophet .
By Your most Holy Eucharist, you share with me your Body and Blood.
By Your agony and passion, you teach me how to suffer well.
By Your cross and dereliction, you make me a priest and a sacrifice.
By Your death and burial, you show me that I too will die.
By your Crucifixion, you teach me to die for my friends.
By Your Resurrection, you give me eternal life with you.
By Your Ascension, you bring me to your Throne.
By Your joys, you give me your joy and your peace.
By Your glory, you share with me your divine nature.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, bring me your peace.

O Lord Jesus Christ, you have said, "Ask and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you." Give to me, I beg you, the gift of your divine love, that I may ever love you with my whole heart, in word and deed, and never cease praising you.

The Holy Name Prayer

O Merciful Jesus, in your infancy you began your ministry as prophet and priest. You became my Savior by shedding your Precious Blood for me, and assuming for us all that Name which is above all names; I thank you for these revelations of your infinite love. I venerate your sacred Name with Gabriel, the angel who first announced your Name, Emmanuel, to the earth, and unite my affections to the tender love which the name “Jesus” has inflamed in the hearts of your Saints.

Animated with a firm faith in your unerring word, and strengthened with confidence in your mercy, I now humbly remind you of the promise you made, that where two or three assemble in your Name, you yourself would be in the midst of them. Jesus, come to me and the company of your saints and angels, for it is in your sacred Name that I am here; come into my heart, that I may be ruled by your holy spirit; in your mercy give to me, through your adorable Name, which is the joy of Heaven, the terror of Hell, the consolation of the suffering, and the solid ground of my unshakable confidence, all my holy needs.

Blessed Mother of our Redeemer! You suffer with your Son as he sheds his sacred blood and assumes for me the Name of Jesus, obtain for me, through his adorable Name, all my holy needs and the needs of those for whom I pray.

Pray, Blessed Mother, that your son's passionate love may imprint his sacred Name on my heart, that his Name may always be in my mind and always on my lips; that his Name may defend me from despair and be my refuge from all the temptations and trials of this life; and in the hour of my death, may his Name be my consolation and support. Amen.

(Best used before the Blessed Sacrament)

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06 May 2018

I dare you to pray this. . .

I gave an OP Laity retreat this weekend. We spent our time together reading and discussing BXVI's Deus caritas est. Thus, the following homily for today's Mass:

I dare you. I double-dog dare you to pray this every morning for the rest of your life: "Lord, complete your joy in me. Finish it! Amen."


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29 April 2018

What Needs Pruning in Your Life?

5th Sunday of Easter 2006
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

That summer I sat on a five-gallon pickle bucket all day everyday pruning tomato vines*. The hothouses in the field lined up like barracks and buzzed in the heat. Each of the twelve houses, covered in thick plastic, fluttered as a huge fan pulled the air through, cooling the plants. I started at the first house nearest the road and worked slowly each week from the first house to the twelfth house, pruning the suckers that grow in the between the branches and the vine. Cutting the suckers away is a necessary step in the growth of the plant. Suckers drain moisture and nutrients from the vines. They look exactly like the productive branches; however, one bears fruit, the other doesn’t. Cutting the branch that bears no fruit makes the whole plant healthier.

Sweeping up the pruned suckers at the end of each day seemed like confession or bathing, an exercise in cleaning up, unloading, or perhaps a sacrament of clearing away, brushing out the debris, pushing along the stuff of distraction, diversion, and disease. Each day ended in fire—the dried suckers burning at the edge of the field, sending acrid smoke into the trees and making my eyes tear.

Jesus reveals to his disciples that he is the true vine and that his Father is the vine grower. His Father cuts away branches that do not bear fruit and prunes the ones that do. Then Jesus says to the disciples: “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” Because I have revealed the Father to you, because I have taught you the way of salvation in mercy, because I have given you to one another as a Body, because I am the Word speaking the Word to you, because you have died with me and will suffer for me, because you will rise again with me and see the Father face-to-face, and because I am the way, the truth, and the life—because I have taught you, given you, shown you, lead you, and because I love you, you are pruned, cut, productively wounded and more than ready to bear the fruit of the Spirit that marks you as mine.

Are you pruned to produce the fruits of the Spirit that mark you as a child of Christ? In his letter to us this morning, John writes: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth[…]this is how we will know that we belong to the truth[…].” We know that we belong to the truth—to Christ the true vine—when we produce the good fruit of charity, when we not only talk about doing good for others, but when we actually do the good for others. To produce the good fruit of love is to fashion from the Word given you a life wholly surrendered to the service of the truth, to the service of Christ, the true vine. To keep his commandments of fidelity—to believe in his Name, Jesus Christ, and to love one another—this is what pleases him.

Are you wholly surrendered to the service of the truth? Being good postmodern folks, I bet most of us heard a little whisper in our hearts just then, the small voice of Pilate asking: what is truth? Aren’t we conditioned to ask these sorts of questions, trained to a certain skepticism about claims of this or that being true? We know that a truth demands our obedience, morally obligates us to believe, so, eyes askance and lips pursed, we ask what any sensible soul would: what is truth? In his letter this morning, John writes: “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from Him whatever we ask[…].” The NRSV says that we have “boldness before God” because we believe and pray in obedience to His will for us. The disciples in Jerusalem did not believe that Saul was a son of the true vine. Only after he had spoken boldly, confidently, in the name of Jesus, teaching the faith in truth and love to the Hellenists, only then did they recognize him as a brother in Christ.

Truth, then, is a relationship, the way that we live and move in the love of Christ, the way we witness publicly to him. Truth is that love that the Father and the Son have for one another, the love of the Holy Spirit. John writes: “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” Those who surrender their lives to the service of the truth—to the service of the love shared in the Blessed Trinity—are true branches, fruitful in charity, ready to be pruned.
What do you need God to prune? What suckers are sucking the life from your branches, depriving your good fruit of nourishment? What falsehoods have attached themselves to the truth? What lies scar your relationship with Christ? What sins block your roots from receiving the good food of the Spirit? What do you need God to prune?
Do you need God to prune away the false notion that there is another way to Him other than His Son, Jesus Christ? Do you need God to prune away the false notion that conscience decides truth rather than merely recognizes it? Do you need God to prune away the false notion that love is just a warm, fuzzy feeling that makes us cuddly to others? Do you need God to prune away the false notion that loving means unconditional acceptance and approval of any and everything any and everyone wants to believe or do? Do you need God to prune away the false notion that you can earn His love, work for His approval? Do you need God to prune away the false notion that He will condemn you in anger, in righteous fury, or disinterest? Do you need God to prune away the false notion that you can live fruitfully in love without truth? 

We cannot bear the fruit of love without the vine of truth. Cut off from truth, our love withers. Cut off from the true vine, from the vine grower, we find ourselves in the fire at the edge of the field, burning, sending up acrid smoke and puffs of ash. Our assurance that we remain in Christ and he remains in us is our life in the Spirit, our participation in the life of the Body, the Church. How else do we maintain a fruitful confidence, a boldness before God that we are loved? With hearts schooled in the Word, hearts strictly poised for obedience, eager to hear and listen, we are one mind, one spirit surrendered to truth, given to the service of God for one another, and brought to perfection as disciples who greatly please our Teacher. Surely we can look around and see the drying suckers of falsehood pruned from our branches. Surely we can see the suckers that still need pruning. But more surely, most certainly, we know that so long as we remain in Christ—believe in his name and love one another—he will remain in us.

Boldly ask for what we need. Start with what needs pruning. Start with what clogs your roots, what prevents your growth in love and truth. And then in all humility ask to love more, to love larger, deeper, wider, longer, to love in greater truth, to bear much good fruit and to love, always to love, for His glory and His glory alone.

* This is the summer of 1991, the summer after I returned from teaching English in China. These hothouses produced more than tomatoes. . .there was this young lady who lived across from the hothouse field. She took an interest in my younger brother. They ended up married!

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22 April 2018

No other Name

4th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Lest there be any confusion about who saves us from sin and death, Peter – filled with the Holy Spirit – says of Christ Jesus, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Peter is answering a question here. Some in the crowd want to know how he healed a crippled man. Rather than taking the credit and boasting about his spiritual power, Peter tells the truth: Christ healed him. Christ saved him. This once-crippled man joins the millions, billions of broken people over the millennia who have heard their shepherd's voice and followed him to their salvation. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me. . .” Knowing Christ, loving Christ is how we stay secure in his flock, confidently led and protected from the wolves of the world. You can be sure that Christ the Good Shepherd knows and loves you – he died for you – but are you as sure that you know and love Christ? 
This question isn't meant to make you anxious. I'm not trying to scare you. Far from it. I ask the question b/c it is far too easy these days for us to lose sight of our final goal – eternal life with the Father through Christ. So much of what we experience everyday is designed to steer us away from knowing and loving our Lord. Rarely are we directly confronted by a stark choice btw following Christ and running with the wolves of the world. Rarely – at least here in the US – are we asked outright to choose: love Christ or love the World. The Enemy is not so stupid as to believe that we would choose the World if our choices were so plainly stated. So, we are instead forced to make – over and over again – smaller, seemingly less urgent choices that slowly but inevitably turn us either toward Christ or the World. Choices that either lead us away from the flock or send us running from the wolves. You know what I'm talk about. Here's a chance to tell the truth or lie. Here's another chance to speak up for Christ, or stay silent. Here's a moment for showing mercy. or taking your revenge. Stay faithful to your spouse, or commit adultery in your heart. Offer praise and thanksgiving to God, or walk away believing you are entitled to His gifts. Knowing and loving Christ means – at the very least – that you keep firmly before you your final goal: eternal life with the Father through Christ. 
This is why Peter and his Church have taught for more than 2,000 years that the only name given on earth and under the heavens for our salvation is the name, Christ Jesus. Many have tried through the centuries to modify, undermine, or outright destroy this constant teaching. Historically, the list of alternative Saviors includes: Good Works, Good Intentions, Just Being Human, Social Justice, Secret Mystical Knowledge, the Law, Rituals Well Done, the State, Community, and Prosperity. In all cases, the idea is to push Christ as-he-is out of the way and replace him with an alternative that demands less from us and is easier for the World to control. In all cases, the alternative is Christ with just a few little modifications, just a few tiny little tweaks that some believe improve on the original Savior. BUT the Good Shepherd knows his and his know him. When the wolves start to hunt, the sheep know where they can go to be secure, to be protected. As St. John says, “Beloved, we are God's children now. . .” And God's children take refuge in His Son.

You can be sure that Christ the Good Shepherd knows and loves you – he died for you – but are you as sure that you know and love Christ? If you are unsure about whether or not you know and love Christ, ask yourself: do I follow his commands? Christ says that those who would be friends follow his commands. Do I love as I ought? That's his first command. Do I bear witness to his mercy in my life? That's what apostles do, bear witness. Do I speak up and tell the truth about his Good News? Do I speak and behave in a way that shows others my love for Christ? Am I faithful to my baptismal vows? Do I use my personal opinions to judge Church teaching? Knowing and love Christ the Good Shepherd is never about “following blindly.” It is always about making a fundamental decision to follow Christ and then reorienting our lives along with his words and deeds. That what “following Christ” means. To walk with him, to talk with him, and to find ourselves living peaceably in his flock.

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15 April 2018

We are witnesses to these things!

3rd Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The disciples are “startled and terrified.” They're troubled, “incredulous for joy” and amazed. What has them all discombobulated and witless? Days after his death and resurrection, Jesus appears among them – in the flesh – and says, “Peace be with you.” Believing that they are seeing a ghost, the disciples freak out! And Jesus asks them, “Why are you troubled?” Well, Jesus, maybe it's b/c you were scourged, nailed to a cross, stabbed in the chest with a spear, buried in a new tomb, and then disappeared after three days, leaving behind nothing but your burial clothes! Now you're walking around, showing us your fatal wounds, and talking to us as if nothing has happened. That's why were troubled! But Jesus seems genuinely confused by their reaction to him, so he asks, “. . .why do questions arise in your hearts?” See answer above: nails, cross, spear, tomb, missing body! Maybe a better question for us to consider is this: why is Jesus confused by his disciples' surprise? Why does he find it odd that they are frightened? After all, he taught them that he must suffer, die, and rise again to fulfill the law and the Prophets. Despite their dumbfounded surprise at his reappearance, the disciples are witnesses to all these things.

And so are we. No, we're not eyewitnesses in the same way that the disciples were. None of us here were there back then to see and hear the nails hammered into his hands and the spear pierce his side. BUT we are witnesses now to the salvation his death purchased for us. We are witnesses now to the mercy we've received b/c he freely chose to become the Lamb of God. We are witnesses now to the love that both the Father and the Son share with us in the Holy Spirit. We can speak about our lives as sinners and give testimony to being freed from sin and death through the waters of baptism. We can speak about the challenges and victories of growing in holiness. We can speak about the beauty of a life lived abundantly in God's grace. The truth we find in the Word and the Sacraments of the Church. The goodness we see in one another when we are at our best. And, yes, we can speak too about our failures; those times we have been less than truthful, those moments where we refuse to be charitable. We can even speak about our doubts, our questions, and our battles to remain faithful. Christian testimony is not propaganda bent toward making us Look Good to the world. Christian testimony is truth-telling. Not “my truth” or “your truth.” But The Truth!

This brings us back to the disciples and their odd reaction to Jesus' reappearance after so many days dead and gone. Jesus told them again and again that he had to suffer, die, and rise again to accomplish their salvation. He told them The Truth. Repeatedly. Their reaction to his reappearance tells us that they didn't believe him while he was with them. So, he returns – wounds and all – to show them. But notice – not only does he show them his wounds as evidence, “he open[s] their minds to understand the Scriptures.” He opens their minds to Scripture to show them that “everything written about [him] in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” In other words, he shows them the proof of fulfillment written on his body, carved into his flesh, and teaches them – again – that he is indeed the Messiah, the Holy One of God. We hear Peter preaching, “. . .God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer.” Suffer for what? For whom? For us! Therefore, “Repent. . .and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” We can bear witness to this truth. 
As we move rapidly toward Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we can do a great deal of good by examining our witness to Christ's sacrifice. Ask yourself: do I live and speak in such a way that others can see and hear Christ in me? Do I live and speak in such a way that others see and hear the Father's abundant mercy in me? Am I an instrument of grace for others? An example? A model of righteousness? Or am I like the troubled disciples, surprised by Christ and too afraid to come out of hiding? Jesus says to his disciples back then and to us right now, “You are witnesses of these things.” Therefore, bear witness and allow God's love to be perfected in you!

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07 April 2018

Make your witness worthy of trust

2nd Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel Sisters, NOLA

How do we not see and yet believe? That is, how do we come to believe despite not having seen? Thomas' refusal to believe that his dead and resurrected Master had visited the apostles makes perfect sense to most Americans. Even most Catholics. We are no less prone to our culture's empirical pragmatism that our Protestant and even non-religious friends and family. In this scene from John, Thomas the Twin stands in for whole generations of western Christians who either ignore the supernatural elements of the faith, or simply refuse – along with Thomas – to believe until empirical evidence is presented, vetted, duplicated, and peer-reviewed. What's astonishing to me is that we always never insist on a Thomas Level of proof in our daily relationships. If my colleague tells me that one of my seminarian-advisees missed class w/o notice, I don't hesitate to contact the miscreant to find out why. When Sr. Angele asks me to celebrate Vigil Mass on April 7th at Mt. Carmel, I don't ask her to send me physical evidence that this alleged academy exists and that there are Carmelite sisters living and working there. We believe in what we do not and cannot see b/c we trust the witness of others. This is why our witness must always be faithful, worthy of trust.

So, is the witness of the other apostles to Thomas trustworthy? We know it is b/c we've been – in a sense – watching from the corner the whole time and saw Christ appear! For Thomas, their witness is insufficient. Why? There's no way for us know for sure why he refused to believe his brothers in the faith, but we can speculate. Maybe the news of his recently executed Master's appearance is just too much for him to process. Grief can cause us to do and say things out of character. Maybe he's been an empirical sort all along, one of those who just needs to see how things are done up close before he gets a grip on what's happening. Maybe Christ's horrible death on the cross has shaken his faith to it core and up-ended his world. Maybe Good Friday caused him to swear off believing in miracles. Maybe his brothers had lost his trust long before this and his refusal to believe is just the latest instance of his suspicious nature. Whatever it is that created his mistrust, we must be clear: Thomas does not doubt; he refuses to believe. Doubt occurs in the intellect. Refusing to believe is all about the will.

Why does that matter? The intellect seeks the Truth. The will seeks the Good. Thomas' refusal to believe is a refusal to accept the Good that his Master's appearance embodies. After the trauma of Good Friday and all of the nastiness of running and hiding after Easter Sunday, Thomas cannot bring himself to move toward the Good of Christ's reappearance. He needs more than trustworthy witnesses. He needs more than his own wishful-thinking. He needs Christ standing in front of him. And that's what he gets. His will is moved and he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Many who do not yet believe will be moved by our witness to the Risen Christ. Some unbelievers may ask for proof. What proof can we give them beyond what we ourselves have experienced of God's mercy? For those seeking the Truth, we can give rational arguments and answer their questions. But for those seeking the Good, something more is required. That Something More is where the truly difficult work of our witness begins. They want to see Christ standing in front of them. And all we have to show them is. . .us. Good, bad, and/or ugly. . .it's down to us. Here, on April 7, 2018 in New Orleans, LA, we are Christ reappearing to everyone he has asked to believe.

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31 March 2018

You know what has happened. . .now what?

[NB. The bracketed words are responses from the congregation. . .and, yes, they responded!]

Easter Sunday 2006 
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Are you here this morning, Church? [Yes] Royal Priests! [Yes] People of God! [Yes] Holy Nation! [Yes] Pilgrim Church! [Yes] Sons and Daughters of the Most High! [Yes], Brothers and Sisters [Yes], then you know what has happened! Christ Jesus the Lord is risen from the tomb! [Amen]

He was sold in betrayal by a friend for the price of a murdered slave! [Amen] He was denied by His best friends when He needed them most! [Amen] He was falsely accused of blasphemy by His own people, found guilty on perjured testimony, and given to Pilate for judgment! [Amen] He was bartered for a murderer with a riotous mob and given to Roman soldiers to be scourged! [Amen] He was crowned with thorns, robed in purple, mocked and spat upon, and hailed as the King of the Jews! [Amen] And, finally, in the place of Skulls, He was nailed hands and feet to the Cross to die forsaken! [Amen]

But you know what has happened! Christ Jesus the Lord is risen from the tomb! The stone is rolled away. His burial cloth thrown to the ground. The tomb is empty.

You know what has happened! But do you know what it means? The disciples, seeing the rolled-away stone, the empty tomb and the burial cloth did not yet understand. And it is no simple matter to say “yes” when asked: do you believe in 2006 that a man who hung on a cross, who was dead and buried for three days, has somehow sprung to live and walked away from his grave? How do you say “yes” to that absurdity? How does anyone in their right mind say to “yes” to that!? I say, it is precisely b/c you are in your Right Mind, your righteous mind, that you say YES to the Rolled Away Stone [Yes], that you say YES to the Empty Tomb [Yes], and that you say AMEN to what you know has happened: Christ Jesus the Lord is risen from the dead! [Amen]

We are not here this morning to celebrate a vegetative regeneration myth. Jesus was not raised from the tomb b/c a god of a myth must rise from the dead so the flowers and grains of the Earth might rise in spring. No. We are not here this morning to celebrate the defeat of our subconscious’ death wish. Jesus was not raised from the tomb because our neurosises need fuel for another year. No. We are not here this morning to celebrate the triumph of an archetypal Hero over an archetypal Death. Jesus was not raised from the tomb because we need a Jungian happy-ending to our quest. No. We are not here this morning to celebrate the triumph of empowered self-esteem over the oppressive, patriarchal structures of organized religion. No. Jesus was not raised from the tomb because our pet-ideologies would be empty without some revolutionary symbol of victory. No.

We are here this morning to celebrate the triumph of New Life over Death, Creation over Chaos, the Goodness of Being over the Evil of Nothingness, the triumph of Freedom over Sin. The tomb is empty because God raised His murdered Son from an ignoble death to New Life. The tomb is empty because the living do not live in the grave! The living have no need of burial clothes! The living say YES to the Father [Yes] and Amen to a glorious life lived in the sure faith of the Resurrection! [Amen]

It is easy to say YES and AMEN on Easter Sunday. The account of the Empty Tomb is still fresh in our hearts and minds. The courage of Mary Magdala’s witness to the cowardly disciples still stirs in us. But let’s be honest: the long 50 day march to Pentecost will see our fervor fade, our energy wane, and the alleluia’s of this Easter morning will droop with these lilies. We will find ourselves before long in the Upper Room cowering with the remnant of Jesus’ once mighty band, wondering what idiocy possessed us to witness to the ridiculous notion that a dead man rose to life and starting popping up all over the city and chatting with people. We hope for the coming of the Holy Spirit to put us back in our right mind, but we have fifty days of Easter to live faithfully. How?

If Palm Sunday is about welcoming the soon-to-be tortured and executed Lord into our lives and Good Friday is about witnessing His suffering for our sakes and Easter Sunday is about celebrating the New Life of the Empty Tomb, then our fifty days to the coming of the Holy Spirit needs to be about gratitude, about giving thanks. We have immediate access to the abundant blessings of the Father through gratitude. Gratitude does two things for us spiritually: first, gratitude is a confession that everything we are and everything we have comes from the Father—we are completely dependent on Him; and second, when we gratefully accept the gifts we are given by God, we become willing beneficiaries of His abundant goodness.

We deny ourselves the benefits of the Resurrection by living lives of entitlement (I am deserving w/o costs!), by living lives of victimization (My problems are someone’s fault!), by living lives of denial (That’s not me!), and by living our lives wallowing in hurt (I will never forgive!). Do not deny yourselves the benefits of the Resurrection.

Practice Easter Gratitude instead! Pray daily to the Father, our Abundant Provider and generous Lord: In You I live and move and have my being. Everything I am and everything I have is Your blessing. This day I offer it all to Your service. Thank you, Lord, for this season of my life, for the gifts You have given me, for those I love and who love me in return. Thank You, Lord, for Your creation, for Your revelation in scripture, for our salvation in Christ Jesus, for the holiness I await in the coming of the Holy Spirit, and for the Church that will rise from the tongues of fire. Make gratitude my constant prayer, Father, so that I may live as a Living Blessing for others. Pray for these in name of our Easter Lord, Jesus Christ!

The tomb is empty, brothers and sisters! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Are you here this morning, Church? [Yes] Royal Priests! [Yes] People of God! [Yes] Holy Nation! [Yes] Pilgrim Church! [Yes] Sons and Daughters of the Most High! [Yes], Brothers and Sisters [Yes], then you know what has happened! Christ Jesus the Lord is risen from the tomb! [Amen]

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29 March 2018

Perfected through obedience

NB. from 2015

Office of Readings: Holy Thursday
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

All that we read and hear read in these Holy Thursday liturgies teach us to how to see our Lord's death. If we were to watch him die on the cross as a criminal, we would have nothing to celebrate. He is dead. If we were see him die as just a man, as this morning's sin-offering, we would have to prepare another victim to sacrifice for tomorrow's sins. If we were to see him die as a god, then nothing human is healed by his dying. Holy Thursday teaches us to see our Lord's death in truth. He is a heretic to the Jews. A criminal to the Romans. Just a man to Jew and Gentile alike. But for us, he is the Son of God and the Son of Man, offered once for all on the altar of the Cross as a sin-offering for the whole world. “When perfected [through obedience], he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. . .” 

Holy Thursday teaches us how an execution became a sacrifice and how a sacrifice becomes a on-going feast for giving thanks. When Jesus and his disciples gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, they are doing more—much more—than honoring an ancient Jewish custom. For three years now, Jesus has reminded his disciples—in word and deed—that everything he says and does is moving them all toward a single goal: the fulfillment of the Covenant btw Abraham and God the Father. Every sermon, every hostile exchange with the Pharisees, every healing miracle, everything he has said and done fulfills scriptural prophecy and points to his birth as the coming of the Kingdom. This last celebration of Passover in Jerusalem is no different. It too is a prophetic sign of who and what he is for us. When Jesus and his friends recline at table to begin the feast, they know that what they are remembering is God's rescue of His people from centuries of Egyptian slavery. Bread for the feast is unleavened b/c there is no time to wait for it to rise. The wine is watered b/c they need to be clear-headed for their escape. They are girded for travel and lightly packed. Jesus lifts the bread and says, “This is my Body.” He lifts the cup of wine, “This is my Blood.” At that moment, what were the disciples thinking? Knowing full well what the Passover means—freedom from slavery—did they understand that the Lord was telling them that their ancestral meal of remembrance was now a feast of freedom? That eating his Body and Blood would free them from sin and death? Later, after Jesus' execution, did they make the connection btw ritually sacrificing a lamb in the temple with his sacrifice on the cross? 

Holy Thursday teaches us that the Roman execution of Jesus is a Jewish sacrifice that the Risen Christ transforms into a feast of thanksgiving—a New Covenant Passover celebration that celebrates our rescue from slavery to sin. How does a Roman execution become a Christian feast? When the one executed is the Son of God and Son of Man. When the one whose body and blood we eat and drink is presented to God as a sacrifice, a sin-offering made once for all. And when we are commanded to remember this sacrifice, to participate in it by taking into our own bodies the Body and Blood of the one sacrificed for us. Holy Thursday teaches us that Jesus the Christ has fulfilled the promises and obligations of the Covenant made btw Abraham and God the Father, establishing for us a New Covenant of grace, of freely offered forgiveness for all of our offenses. Knowing this, “. . .let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need.”

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25 March 2018

He goes to Jerusalem knowing. . .

Palm Sunday (B)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Between today and next Sunday we will hear again and again how Christ emptied himself out for our sake. How he took on the form of a slave for us. How he “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Palm Sunday remembers the day he entered Jerusalem in triumph, hailed as a conquering king. What a difference one week can make. From King to Criminal, from Conqueror to Crook. He will be celebrated and honored, betrayed and falsely accused, wrongly convicted and executed. . .all this week. . .and for no other reason than to free you and me from the bonds from sin and death. He goes to Jerusalem – knowing he will die – he goes to Jerusalem b/c it is in Jerusalem that every righteous sacrifice must be made. He dies in this one place so that every place from then on will be made right for offering the Father worthy praise and thanksgiving. Spend this week before his death giving God thanks and praise for making His mercy freely available. For making His Son the means of your freedom from the darkness of sin and death. For making us His children. . .again.


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24 March 2018

Three Scenes from the Field Hospital

Pope Francis says that the Church is a "field hospital."

Brilliant metaphor!

Let's explore:


You are experiencing severe chest pains. An ambulance takes you to the E.R. The doctors take one look at you and call security to throw you out. Eventually, a disgusted nurse comes outside and you ask her, "I'm having a heart attack! Why won't you treat me?" The nurse sneers, "We only accept perfectly healthy people at this hospital." You die.


You are experiencing severe chest pains. An ambulance takes you to the E.R. The doctors do a battery of tests and conclude that you are having a heart attack. They nod solemnly and walk away. After a couples of hours of intense pain and panic, you ask a nurse, "I'm having a heart attack! Why won't you treat me?" She smiles and chirps, "Oh! We are only here to affirm you in your concrete circumstances and accompany you while you share our space." You die.


You are experiencing severe chest pains. An ambulance takes you to the E.R. The doctors do a battery of tests and conclude that you are having a heart attack. They immediately get to work stabilizing your condition with meds and order a series of treatments that prevent further damage to your heart. After the initial emergency is over, a nurse comes by to arrange long-term out-patient care and suggestions for altering your diet and exercise regimen. You live.

Which of these three scenes best represents the salvific work of the Church as a field hospital?
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12 March 2018

Do you need signs and wonders?

4th Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic, NOLA

This scene from John always makes me a little nervous. Jesus seems to be dismissing the royal official's anxiety about his dying son. He asks Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal the kid and Jesus sort of waves him off with “You people just won't believe unless you see signs and wonders.” Completely ignoring him, the official persists, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Here's where I have to be careful, b/c I can almost see Jesus roll his eyes and sigh before he says – a little too pompously? – “You may go; your son will live.” Now, I know Jesus didn't roll his eyes or sigh, and I know he's not arrogantly dismissing this poor man's distress over his dying son. But I think you can see how this all reads on the page. Jesus here isn't exactly the picture of the heroic healer we've some to expect. So, what's going on? The answer – I think – comes in the sentence immediately after Jesus tells the man that his son will live. John writes, “The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.” In other words, the man believes Jesus has healed his son before he actually knows that his son is healed. He didn't need to see signs and wonder before he believed. He takes Jesus at his word.

When we talk about faith, we often talk as if faith is a quantity of something, a measurable amount of “holy stuff.” I need more faith. I don't have enough faith. We do the same thing with grace. More grace. Not enough grace. This is a deadly way of thinking about the trust we place in the Lord. We cannot account for faith; that is, count it up and balance the ledger btw credits and debits. Faith is our living, daily trust in the Father's promises. I trust God, or I don't. If I say that I trust God but still seek after signs and wonders, then all I'm doing is gambling that I'm right to trust Him. If I refuse to trust until I have proof, then my trust – when the proof comes – isn't really trust at all. However, if – like the official – I ask in faith for something and believe it is given before I see it done, then I can say that I truly trust in God's Word. We like evidence. We like to see and hear and touch. We like to know. But the only grounds we have for believing in God's promises is the indwelling of His love and our belief that we are – from all eternity – the subjects of His boundless mercy. To this truth we are vowed to be public witnesses, to give testimony without fear or shame.

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10 March 2018

By Grace We Have Been Saved

NB. I almost forgot that I am celebrating a Vigil Mass for the Carmelite sisters and their benefactors today.

4th Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel Academy, NOLA

For all the weirdness of the Catholic faith – things like chapels made of skulls and monks sleeping in coffins – we Catholics are a practical people overall. We like prayers that work for us. We like devotions that console us. One of the ways that we sometimes keep track of our salvation looks something like a bookkeeper's ledger. Good deeds on the credit side. Sins on the debit side. We look at that ledger and think, “If I can manage kick off while the credits are larger than the debits, I'm good.” With this mindset firmly in place, we look for ways to build the credit side – indulgences, extra penances, more time in the confessional, maybe a few extra bucks in the collection plate. We may even take on trying to reduce the debit side of the ledger by giving up a few vices or fasting once and awhile. Lent is a particularly time of year to kick a few bad habits and pick up some good ones. At the end of these 40 Days we sit down at the ledger and hope the balance looks good before Easter! While all this is a sensible, practical way of growing in holiness, it does nothing to the bottom-line of our salvation. Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy. . .brought us to life with Christ — by grace you have been saved. . .”

By grace we have been saved. Not prayer or good deeds or donations or extra penances. By grace. Through a gift from God. His gift of His only Son, Jesus Christ. Being the practical people we are we sometimes have difficulty really believing that our redemption is free. In fact, our redemption from sin and death is so free that we were given our freedom before we could do anything to earn it. Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy. . .brought us to life with Christ. . .” Why? “. . .because of the great love he had for us. . .” When did He do this? “. . .even when we were dead in our transgressions.” Even when we were dead in our sins, God's love for us, His mercy for us brought us back to life with his Christ. We did nothing to earn this. Nothing to merit it. Nothing we could do would gain us this life in Christ. We hear this echoed in John oft-quoted verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The kicker here is that even our desire and ability to believe in His Son is a gift!

So why do we work ourselves into a frenzy “doing holy things” to assure our salvation? I have no idea. Doing holy things can help us grow in holiness, to become more perfect in Christ, but they can do nothing to save us. Why? Because we are not saved in degrees. Being Saved is like Being Dead. Either you are or you aren't. Now, you can sin to such an extreme degree that you effectively reject your salvation. But even then God's offer to return remains open and free. Just turn around. Confess. Do your penance. And receive the Father's mercy. Here's a suggestion for the remaining days of Lent: sacrifice your religious pride; that is, give up any false notion that you can “do your own thing” in order to be saved. You can't. You can't earn what's already free. You can sacrifice your religious pride by adopting a program of prayer that focuses exclusively on giving God thanks for all that you have. No other prayer than: “Thank You, Lord, for my family, my friends, my health, etc.” Thank Him for your trials so that they can be made holy. Thank Him for your temptations so that they too can be made holy. Work for holiness not salvation. John writes, “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

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