15 July 2018

Making idols of things

15th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic/OLR

When I received my letter of admission into the Dominican novitiate back in Feb of 1999, I rejoiced. . .and then I panicked. I was 34yo at the time, and I had most of what most 34yo men had: lots of stuff – suits for work, furniture for a house, a house, a car, about 300 CD's, kitchen equipment, a desktop computer, and boxes and boxes of junk that seem to travel around with me wherever I go. The letter from the Order made it clear that my room in the novitiate was small, very small, and that I was to bring the absolute minimum with me. I got rid of everything but the computer, some pants, a couple of dress shirts, and a two pairs of shoes. My room was a 10x12ft cell in a renovated Incarnate Word sisters' convent. Turns out: I'd brought too much! Since I joined the Order 19yrs ago, I've moved six times; lived in ten different priories in five provinces of the Order. The longest I've been in one house is six years – right here at St Dominic's. Our Lord knows what we often forget: the things of this world can weigh us down, keep us paralyzed, and eventually suffocate us. To do the work we've vowed to do, we must be truly free, unattached from the world and wholly, completely attached to him.

Way back in the 13th century there was a heated debate between the two begging Orders – the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Both Orders required their friars to take live out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Early on in the history of the Order, the Dominicans friars realized the necessity of owning property in order to survive. We adopted a communal property notion of poverty – we own nothing individually but the community owns what is necessary to carry out our mission. The Franciscans – as they are wont – went to the extreme, claiming that poverty must be understood as destitution and that this kind of poverty was necessary for salvation! So radical was this definition of poverty that the Franciscans split into two groups and some members of the more extreme group were declared heretics in the 14th century.* The point of this brief history lesson is this: detachment from things is not about not owning and using the things we need; it's about knowing the difference between owning and using things and allowing those things to own and use us. Our Lord's instructions to his disciples are meant to free them from the necessities of owning and using things that they do not need.
We could call this view of poverty “simplicity” – live simply, humbly, detached from luxury and excess, owning and using nothing more than you absolutely need to do your work in Christ. But there's a danger here, one the Enemy recognizes and exploits. If simplicity is used as a means to an end, all is well. However, if simplicity becomes the end, simplicity for simplicity's sake, then you end up with a new attachment, new idol to worship. An example, how many of you here recycle? Recycling is a good thing. It's a good means to a good end. But if recycling becomes for you a Sign of Righteousness, a Badge of Goodness and Purity then you've elevated it to an idol. IOW, if recycling (or going to the gym or driving a Prius or wearing a veil at Mass) become your sole touchstone for being holy, then you've attached yourself to a creature, a created thing. There's nothing wrong with any of these activities in themselves. The question is: do you use them, or do they use you? Jesus wants his disciples – and us – to know how the world tempts us to attachment, tempts us to entangle ourselves in the things of the world to create little gods that we think we can control. Thus his admonition to “take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts.”

What we are made and remade in Christ to be and do is bear witness to the mercy of God to sinners. Whatever we need to accomplish this singular task is good and holy. But the things we need are means not ends. Our end is eternal life with the Father. Every single thing in our lives must be measured against that end. Christ frees to us to complete his work. And we cannot do his work if we are consumed with tending to the needs of our things.

*This is a ridiculously truncated history, of course.

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11 July 2018

Till He come to rain down justice

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

The prophet Hosea prophesies to a nation in chaos. The northern kingdom of Israel has become prosperous and corrupt. Ruled by a succession of six Assyrian puppet-kings in just 26 years, the people have long since forgotten their duty to God. And b/c they have forgotten who and what they are, God will allow the Assyrian Empire to crush them. Hosea prophesies, “Their heart is false, now they pay for their guilt; God shall break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars.” A people who lack gratitude, who lack a proper sense of religious duty have no use for altars or sacred pillars. What about a king to quell the chaos? Will the Lord send a king to ensure their safety? Hosea says, “Since they do not fear the Lord, what can the king do for them?” A king is only as good as the people's faith in God. No kingdom can replace the covenant. No king can replace the Lord. When a nation suffers the consequences of its collective sin, its failure to honor God, “it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain down justice upon you.” 
Whatever measure of peace and prosperity we enjoy now or later we must see as gifts from God and God alone. Of course, there are natural mechanisms that work out a good national economy or ensure the end of wars and violence. But it is the Spirit of God that moves the hearts of men and women to seek out the common good and work toward just ends. It is God who pours out His enduring Love and seduces us to do better, to be better when we are tempted with self-serving means and unjust ends. When we receive His love, we are better, we do better and b/c we are so blessed, He deserves our gratitude. Not b/c He needs us to be thankful but b/c being thankful only increases our humility, making it possible for us to receive more and more of His good graces. A people who have turned their backs on God cannot make wise decisions, nor can they prosper, nor can they long survive as a people under His care. No politician or Supreme Court Justice or Pope can save a nation that refuses to acknowledge the source of its material and spiritual wealth. The disastrous consequences of this refusal aren't a punishment from God on the people; it's God allowing these people to be who they want to be: a tribe cut off from His blessings, a nation grown sick with ingratitude. 
When a nation suffers the consequences of its collective sin, its failure to honor God, Hosea tells us that “it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain down justice upon you.”

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08 July 2018

You are a prophet of God!

14th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic/OLR, NOLA

Bakers bake cakes and pies. Florists arrange flowers. Firefighters fight fires. Doctors and nurses heal the sick. What do prophets do? If you had to write out a job description for a prophet, what would you say? “The prophet is primarily responsible for walking around the neighborhood, shouting 'Repent! The End is Near.' Must provide own animal-skin garments and locusts and honey. Good hygiene optional.” That's our image of the prophet, right? The lonely soul, wandering the streets, yelling at tourists and stinking up the place. We read about them in Scripture, of course. God calls them go out and warn people about their sin and their coming doom. Most of the time they are ignored and God punishes the wicked fair and square. They were warned after all. But here we are in 2018, and we're pretty sure that prophets are a thing of the past. God no longer calls out individuals to speak His word of truth, to foretell the destruction of a city or a nation b/c of sin. God no long uses a single human voice to put us back on the correct path. No, He doesn't use a single voice. He uses all our voices – the bold, prophetic voices of the baptized, the Church. You and me, generations of Christians past and those to come.

The singular purpose of the Church is to serve as the sacrament of salvation for all mankind – an outward sign, a visible manifestation of God's mercy to sinners. The Church is not – as Pope Francis has said – a religious non-governmental social service organization; the Church is not a social club or a business network or a non-profit political action committee. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth. And we – the baptized – are the Church's priests, prophets, and kings. As priests we meditate God's mercy, His grace. As Kings, we stand to inherit His kingdom, eternal life. And as prophets, we carry His saving Word into the world so that all those with ears to hear and eyes to see can hear and see His enduring love through our words and deeds. The prophets of the Old Testament served a specific purpose at a specific time. God chose them individually to say what needed to be said in order to bring sinners back to righteousness. Christ's death and resurrection and our baptism into his death and resurrection make each one of us carriers of his Word, his mission, and his ministry. You are a prophet of God. And you have work to do.

As men and women baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we have vowed to be faithful to God, just to our neighbors, hopeful in crisis, loving to all, joyful even as we mourn, and as eager to show mercy as we are to seek mercy for ourselves. The key to our lives as prophets is not moral do-goodism or institutional credentials. Our prophetic key is humility – the certain and daily-lived knowledge that we are creatures of a loving God, wholly dependent, utterly reliant on the Love that gave us and gives us life. There is no other source of identity for us. No other means of doing what we have vowed our lives to do. Ezekiel is consumed in the voice of God. Paul is plagued by a thorn in his flesh. Jesus himself is rejected by his hometown folks. Their humility fuels a righteous fire for God's justice not a self-righteous grudge against the status-quo, not a self-serving envy for what is not theirs. Self-anointed prophets in lab coats, expensive suits, or liturgical vestments might tempt us with a scientific or political or spiritual utopia, but we know that any prophet who will not and cannot say, “Thus says the Lord God...,” we know that they are false prophets. They are not of God; they do not speak His Word. 
If you will fulfill your vow to be a prophet of God, you will be faithful, just, hopeful, joyful, and loving. You will speak the Truth and do the Good. You will set aside self-righteous anger, envy, and pride. And most importantly, you will be the Father's mercy to sinners.

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01 July 2018

Sin Makes You Stupid

13th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Paraphrasing Aquinas' moral theology: “Sin makes you stupid.” Quite literally – to deliberately violate right reason and God's law results in you becoming less rational and therefore less like God. A corollary to “sin makes you stupid” is “sin can kill you.” Death entered creation through human disobedience. As the Book of Wisdom tell us – we were made to be imperishable. We were made in the image of God's nature. God did not create us to die. He created us to live with Him forever. But death was born from the devil's envy and “they who belong to [the devil's] company experience it.” Not just mortal death but eternal death. Eternal separation from God the Father. Why such a profoundly dreary homily topic on this beautiful July evening? Because, as followers of Christ, we can speak about death – mortal death – as little more than “falling asleep.” 
We awake from sleep when we hear our Lord say, “I say to you, arise!” 
Paul tells the Corinthians how Christ accomplishes all this waking and rising among his people. He writes, “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” The Son of God – from the richness of his divinity – became poor for us. He willingly took on the poverty of becoming man so that we might put on the richness of divinity. He could've simply restored us to our original imperishability. Instead, he raised us up to perfect union with the Father. While we are all subject to a mortal's death, none of us must remain dead. Like Jairus' daughter, Christ will say to us, “Arise!” and we will join him and the Father, sharing perfectly in the divine nature. That's our end. The means we use to reach this end is freely available to anyone and everyone who will receive it. Paul writes, “As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious act also.” This gracious act. What gracious act? The gracious act of Christ becoming poor as that we might become rich. In other words, the means you need to reach your final end is total surrender to God's will so that His will and your will are indistinguishable from one another. As Christ willed to give himself freely on the cross out of his love for us, so we too must will to give ourselves out of love for one another. There is no greater means to eternal life. 
Think of it this way: sin is the refusal or the unwillingness to be like God in all things. You could say, “But Father! I'm not God!” You're right. You aren't God. But you are created in His image and likeness, and you are re-created in the image of the perfect God-Man, Jesus Christ. In the first century of the Church, St. Irenaeus writes, “. . .our Lord Jesus Christ, through His transcendent love, become what we are, [so] that He might bring us to be what He Himself is.”* No only did the Son become us so that we might become Sons, he makes it possible for us to be Sons – heirs – even now, gracing us extravagantly with every gift we need to surrender and love sacrificially. When Christ cries out – “I say to you, Arise!” – he is not merely urging us to rise from death and enter eternal life. He is also commanding us to lift up our broken wills, our torn bodies, and our distracted minds so that we can be revived, restored for the work ahead. Arise, brothers and sisters, this world needs its Christs.

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24 June 2018

Do you fear a Savior?

The Nativity of John the Baptist
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

As soon as Zechariah confirms his son's name, John. . .Luke reports an odd event. He writes, “Then fear came upon all their neighbors.” Fear? Why? Why are Elizabeth's and Zechariah's neighbors fearful at the naming of the couple's son? John isn't a family name. We know that much. We know that Zechariah had his tongue frozen b/c he questioned the angel who brought news of Elizabeth's pregnancy months earlier. What's so horrible about the name “John” that it causes the whole neighborhood to quake in fear? “John” simply means “God shows Himself to be gracious.” Hardly terrifying. Well, you see, it's not just the name that's got people worked up. It's the whole way in which an elderly Elizabeth becomes pregnant and how Zechariah is punished by an angel and how his punishment is publicly lifted when he obeys the Lord and allows John to be named “John.” There's something special, something extraordinary about this kid. That mystery – "What, then, will this child be?" – is what's got them all whispering in fear.
If they knew then what we know now, they would be rejoicing. John is the herald of the Christ, our liberator from sin and death. Well, some of them would be rejoicing – those who actually want to be freed from sin and death and don't much mind the upheaval that Christ's birth, death, and resurrection will cause to their everyday lives. We can imagine that back then – like right now – there are those in the neighborhood who either don't believe that sin is a thing or don't believe that they themselves are actually committing a sin when they sin. If sin isn't real, or my favorite sin isn't really a sin in my mind, then I'm not going to be all that thrilled to hear about the birth of a prophet who preaches the necessity of repentance and the coming of the Savior. In fact, the birth of a prophet is probably going to shake things up and cause me a lot of inconvenience. . .not the least of which is having to hear about how sinful I am! So, yeah, I'd be afraid. Especially if I know my people's prophetic history. What does Isaiah say, “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword. . .He made me a polished arrow. . .” Sharp swords and polished arrows can only mean one thing: THAT kid is going to be a pain in the neck.

And indeed he was. John the Baptist didn't make a lot of friends. He had his disciples. His followers. Those he baptized in repentance. And we all know the story of his demise. Dancing girl. Foolish king. Severed head. Silver platter. What we might not know is why the Church celebrates John's birth. We celebrate Christ's birth and the BVM's birth and John's. No one else's. So, why John? We celebrate John's birth b/c it is all too easy for us to forget our prophetic heritage; to set aside the ancient voice of God and misremember the promises He made ages ago. If we forget, our tongues become stuck in ignorance and we cannot offer Him thanks and praise for His gifts. We cannot bear witness to His goodness in our lives. We cannot ask for what we need, nor receive what He has given us. If we forget John, we forget that God shows Himself to be gracious to us, and we cannot show His graciousness to others. If we forget John, we forget the price we might have to pay for standing on the Truth, and we may fall to laxity in telling the truth. We remember John – his birth and death – so that we may never forget that we ourselves are heralds of the Christ. We are not The Christ. But we are on our way to becoming Christs. . .prophets of the Father's mercy in this world.

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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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