06 August 2017

Mankind's definitive deliverance from evil

NB. The new pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary, Fr. Jonathan Hemelt, will be celebrating all of the Masses there through the month of August. I will return to OLR in September.

I can't think of a better reflection on the Feast of the Transfiguration that these paragraphs from BXVI brilliant 2007 post-synodal exhortation:


10. In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection. At the same time, He reveals that He Himself is the true sacrificial lamb, destined in the Father's plan from the foundation of the world, as we read in The First Letter of Peter. By placing His gift in this context, Jesus shows the salvific meaning of His death and resurrection, a mystery which renews history and the whole cosmos. The institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus' death, for all its violence and absurdity, became in Him a supreme act of love and mankind's definitive deliverance from evil.

11. By His command to "do this in remembrance of me", He asks us to respond to His gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, His expectation that the Church, born of His sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament. The remembrance of His perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into His "hour." "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving." Jesus "draws us into Himself." The substantial conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of "nuclear fission," to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all.

23. Certainly the ordained minister also acts "in the name of the whole Church, when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the eucharistic sacrifice." As a result, priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord's hands. This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.

36. The "subject" of the liturgy's intrinsic beauty is Christ Himself, risen and glorified in the Holy Spirit, who includes the Church in His work. Here we can recall an evocative phrase of Saint Augustine which strikingly describes this dynamic of faith proper to the Eucharist. The great Bishop of Hippo, speaking specifically of the eucharistic mystery, stresses the fact that Christ assimilates us to Himself: "The bread you see on the altar, sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what the chalice contains, sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ. In these signs, Christ the Lord willed to entrust to us His body and the blood which He shed for the forgiveness of our sins. If you have received them properly, you yourselves are what you have received." Consequently, "not only have we become Christians, we have become Christ himself." We can thus contemplate God's mysterious work, which brings about a profound unity between ourselves and the Lord Jesus: "one should not believe that Christ is in the head but not in the body; rather He is complete in the head and in the body."

46. Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily is "part of the liturgical action", and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. Hence ordained ministers must "prepare the homily carefully, based on an adequate knowledge of Sacred Scripture". Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided. In particular, I ask these ministers to preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of the word of God to the sacramental celebration and the life of the community, so that the word of God truly becomes the Church's vital nourishment and support. The catechetical and paraenetic [moral instruction] aim of the homily should not be forgotten. During the course of the liturgical year it is appropriate to offer the faithful, prudently and on the basis of the three-year lectionary, "thematic" homilies treating the great themes of the Christian faith, on the basis of what has been authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium in the four "pillars" of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the recent Compendium, namely: the profession of faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ and Christian prayer.

82. In discovering the beauty of the eucharistic form of the Christian life, we are also led to reflect on the moral energy it provides for sustaining the authentic freedom of the children of God. Here I wish to take up a discussion that took place during the Synod about the connection between the eucharistic form of life and moral transformation. Pope John Paul II stated that the moral life "has the value of a 'spiritual worship', flowing from and nourished by that inexhaustible source of holiness and glorification of God which is found in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist: by sharing in the sacrifice of the Cross, the Christian partakes of Christ's self-giving love and is equipped and committed to live this same charity in all his thoughts and deeds". In a word, "'worship' itself, eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented".

This appeal to the moral value of spiritual worship should not be interpreted in a merely moralistic way. It is before all else the joy-filled discovery of love at work in the hearts of those who accept the Lord's gift, abandon themselves to him and thus find true freedom. The moral transformation implicit in the new worship instituted by Christ is a heartfelt yearning to respond to the Lord's love with one's whole being, while remaining ever conscious of one's own weakness. This is clearly reflected in the Gospel story of Zacchaeus. After welcoming Jesus to his home, the tax collector is completely changed: he decides to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay fourfold those whom he had defrauded. The moral urgency born of welcoming Jesus into our lives is the fruit of gratitude for having experienced the Lord's unmerited closeness.

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23 July 2017

The Weeds of Prayer

16th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

In prayer we are “beggars before God.” Having nothing, we ask for everything, and receive what we need. If we cannot quite put words to our needs, “the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” Like the rest of creation, we too long to be raised to perfection, to be made complete again in the presence of God. But until we are given the beatific vision, we live and move in this world – needing, asking, receiving, giving; not knowing perfectly what comes next. Not knowing what comes next can be a source of anxiety or a source of freedom. If we trust in God, fully surrendering ourselves to His providence, not knowing what comes next is freeing. How we pray in this freedom is simple: “Lord, your will be done. I receive all You have to give!” Prayer becomes more complicated when we hold back, when we hide away bits of control, little needs to direct and dominate: “Lord, your will be done (if your will is to allow me to do my will), and I receive all You have to give (if what You have to give is what I want)!” This is not the prayer of a beggar. It IS the prayer of a willful child who falsely believes he/she knows perfectly what comes next. We don't know and acting on that not- knowing can kill us. Both physically and spiritually.

Jesus proposes to the crowds a parable about the wisdom of not acting in ignorance. He tells them (and us) to allow the weeds to grow among the wheat. We can't always tell the difference btw the weeds and the wheat. Pulling up the weeds might damage the wheat. Let them both grow and the harvesters will separate them – wheat to the barn, weeds to the fire. Full knowledge of which is which comes at the end not the beginning. The same is true for the differences btw our wants and our needs. If I pray in ignorance for what I need, I may be praying for what I want instead. And when I don't get what I think I need, I begin to doubt God's providence. Maybe I stop praying. Maybe I stop believing. Maybe – even – I turn against God b/c He has failed to meet my “needs.” My ignorance – my “not-knowing” – can cause me to stumble along the Way. . .unless. . .I know that I am ignorant and choose instead to surrender myself to God's providence and receive whatever He sends my way. “Lord, your will be done. I receive all You have to give!” The mature pray-er begins and ends in ignorance, allowing the Harvester to separate his wants from his needs, the wheat from the weeds.

What are the weeds in prayer? Jesus says, “While everyone was asleep [the farmer's] enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat. . .” Notice that everyone was asleep. They weren't keeping vigil. No one was on watch. And b/c no one was watching, the farmer's enemy was free to sow weeds. When we are not paying attention to our spiritual lives, when we are living life as if God doesn't exist, the Enemy is free to sow his weeds. His favorite weed to sow is the weed we'll call “Self-Sufficiency,” also known as “I Don't Any Help.” This weed tempts us to believe that we already know what the problem is and how to solve it. It tempts us – in our pride – to turn away from God's providence and rely on our own ingenuity. Or to tell God what the problem is and how He ought to fix it. Given enough time to grow this weed produces fruit called, “I Need a Hole Plugged.” God and His providence become little more than an emergency yelp when things go bad. There's a way to render these weeds powerless over your prayer. Don't pull them! Let them grow. But render them powerless by admitting upfront that you don't know what you need, desire God above all else, and receive all the He sends you with praise and thanksgiving. 
Paul lays all this bare for us in his letter to the Romans: “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought. . .” Paul is not suggesting here that we've forgotten the words to our prayers, or that we're praying the wrong prayers. He's telling us that our weakness – our ignorance (for we do not know how to pray as we ought) – is aided by the Spirit. We are strengthened in prayer by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit to struggle with our ignorance and surrender to the providence of God. Prayer is not a matter of overcoming not-knowing or learning all that we ought to know. Prayer is about placing ourselves – freely and generously – in the path of the Spirit so that He may take us up and deliver us – needs and all – into the presence of the One Who loves us. If we are tightly bound by sin, or diverted by disordered passions, or driven away by an ugly pride, we cannot throw ourselves in the path of the Spirit. Nor can we pray. Nor can we receive all that God has to give us. This is why Christ – “the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit” – sits at the right hand of the Father and “intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will.” What we do not know and cannot know about our own needs and about God's will, Christ knows. And he is there to hear us even when all we can do is groan.

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16 July 2017

Looking is not seeing. . .

15th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

I failed algebra twice in high school and once in college. In every other subject in high school and college both I did just fine. English, history, and philosophy were simple. . .compared to algebra. I managed – finally – to pass college algebra with a C+ by memorizing the formulas and using them mechanically. I understood literature. I understood the flow of history. I understood philosophical arguments. I could not understand the quadratic equation. To save my soul, the souls of my family and friends, the souls of the whole nation – I simply could not “get” algebra. And I still can't. I memorized the equations and mechanically applied them, having no clue how or why they worked. No doubt the sufferings of my poor teachers sprung many a soul from purgatory in those years. What I know now that I didn't know then is that “understanding” takes more than “knowing that” and “knowing how.” Understanding – true understanding – is knowledge put to work, lived out, lived with. The disciples ask Jesus why he teaches the crowds with parables. Jesus answers: “. . .they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Looking is not seeing; hearing is not listening. Seeing and listening to the Word of God are gifts given to us for our salvation. 
Some in the crowds have not yet received the gifts of seeing and listening. So, Jesus defends his use of parables in teaching on the grounds that there are some there who have not been granted knowledge of the kingdom's mysteries. Why don't these people have the knowledge required to see and listen? Jesus, quoting Isaiah 6, says, “Gross is the heart of this people.” He's recalling the orders that God gives Isaiah regarding His people, “Make the heart of this people sluggish, dull their ears and close their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and their heart understand. . .” The sluggish hearts of God's people refused to be moved by punishment, admonition, argument, or exile. They closed their eyes to miracles and their ears to prophecy. God orders Isaiah to let them languish in blindness and deafness “until the cities are desolate, without inhabitants, Houses, without people, and the land is a desolate waste.” In other words, God will allow His people to live with the consequences of their ignorance and disobedience until all that they have is destroyed. This is not another punishment, but a hard call to repentance and conversion. Isaiah is sent to make sure the message is crystal clear: repent, return to obedience, and be healed.

For those in the crowd who have received the gifts of seeing and listening, Jesus' message is crystal clear. For those with a heart open to the Word and a mind ready for the Truth, his parables are instructions for living a holy life. The seed of the Word flourishes in fertile soil. Rocks, sand, thorns, a blazing sun – all destroy the seed before it can take root. The seed of the Word cannot take root in a heart divided btw the Gospel and the World, in a heart that beats for Self Alone. The seed of the Word cannot flourish in a heart choked with anger, vengeance, malice, or pride. It cannot grow surrounded by self-righteousness, gossip, obscenity, or vicious habit. A disobedient heart cannot listen to the Father's offer of mercy, nor can it see the truth of His love. The parable comes into razor-sharp focus when the disobedient heart turns from sin and listens again to the wisdom of Christ: “. . .the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it.” And the one who understands “bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Earlier I noted that I finally managed to pass college algebra with a C+ by memorizing the formulas and applying them mechanically. I did not understand algebra then, and I still don't. What I have come to understand is that our faith is not algebra. We cannot simply memorize the formulas and apply them mechanically. Faith is trust and trust must be lived – openly, freely, generously – with God and one another. That means taking some risks, perhaps some dangerous risks, but always risking with the assurance that whatever God has in the works for us it's for our eternal best. Memorized formulas and mechanical applications got me through algebra. . .that's b/c algebra is the sort of thing that just needs to be done not necessarily understood. Your relationship with the Father through Christ is a living relationship that requires tending – like a healthy garden or a growing child. It needs attention. It needs loving care. Left alone, your relationship with God will grow stale; it will grow “gross,” sluggish, and you will be left wondering why the abundant graces you once enjoyed are so scarce of late. Receive the gifts of seeing and listening so that the Word of God might be a constant sight and source of wisdom and inspiration for you. Put that wisdom into daily practice so that you can come to understand – truly understand – the faith you profess. Christ is asking you, me, all of us to become the good ground that yields a fruitful harvest!

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09 July 2017

Two Steps: Yoke Up and Learn

14th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Last Sunday we heard a discomforting truth: it is possible for us to be unworthy of Christ. If you love anyone or anything more than you love Christ, then you are unworthy of him. We heard this truth not from some sneering traditionalist cardinal lurking in the Vatican but from Jesus himself: “. . .whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” To be worthy of Christ, to be made worthy of Christ we must submerge all our loves in Love Himself, surrendering every attachment; drowning our actual sins, our disordered passions, and our vices in the blood and water of the Crucified Christ. ALL sinners are called to the Church; ALL sinners are welcomed in the Church. We are ALL called to repentance and welcomed as New Creations in Christ Jesus – when we confess, repent, and receive His mercy. When we have received His mercy through repentance, Paul says of us: “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” If only the Spirit of God dwells in you. How do we invite in and nurture the Spirit of God? Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. . .”
Two steps: take my yoke and learn from me. “Take the yoke” is Jesus' way of saying “Take me on as your Lord.” When a plowman yokes his oxen, he ties the two of them together, and then he ties the yoke to the plow. The plowman controls the plow by controlling the oxen. If you want to get really fancy, think of it this way: you and I are the oxen, pulling the plow, the Church, and Christ is the plowman. When we “take on the yoke” of Christ we submit ourselves to his Lordship, his rule. We give ourselves over to his mission and ministry in the world. We are bound together – you and I – tied together in the Church to plow, sow, and harvest as the Lord commands. Now, being the lazy academic priest that I am, none of this sounds particularly enticing! Yet! The Lord promises just that: “. . .my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” I remember – as a kid – plowing and weeding a three-acre garden under a hot summer sun in Mississippi. I don't remember it being neither easy nor light. But the Lord's yoke, his work for us is easy and light b/c we have invited in and nurtured the Spirit of God. Whatever Christ the Plowman has given us to do, he has done before us. His work is complete. We're catching up – for our good and the good of the whole world.

The second step – “learn from me” – follows on the first. Once we have yoked ourselves to the plow of the Church and placed ourselves under the rule of Christ, we learn; that is, by listening and doing, we come to a greater understanding of who we are in Christ. Note well: yoking first; learning second. The learning flows from the yoking. If we want to stand back – unyoked – and try to learn about Christ, we can. We can gather all sorts of interesting facts and theories and stories about the man, Jesus Christ. We can come to all sorts of fascinating conclusions and even call ourselves his followers. BUT if we want to truly learn – to contemplate, to be transformed – we must first be yoked to Christ and through him to one another. And what can we learn from the yoke? To work together? Yes. To share a common goal? Sure. But we don't need Christ for that. Yoked to Christ and through him to one another we learn what can only be learned so yoked: we learn to become Christ. His work is complete. You and I are not yet Christ. Our work continues. And it continues only through his Lordship and the indwelling of the Spirit of God.
Question time: have you taken on the yoke of Christ and learned from him? Think back to last week. Do you love anyone or anything more than you love Christ? Have you taken up your cross and followed him? If not, then you are not worthy of him. Despite the best efforts of our secular culture and even some in the Church, we cannot “unhear” Jesus say what he has already always said. We have choices to make. Graced choices. Choices that we are able to make only b/c God loved us first. His love for us includes the freedom to accept or reject His love. Accept or reject. One or the other. We cannot accept the parts we like and reject the rest. Or reject it all and still fuss about claiming our inheritance. Lest there be any confusion here: God loves us all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And He wills that we love Him in return. BUT He also wills that we love Him freely. When we choose to freely love Him, our lives change. We yoke ourselves to Christ and submit to him as Lord. We learn – through listening and doing – to become Christs for others. And like Christ loving his Father, we surrender, we sacrifice our lesser loves so that we might become perfect as He is perfect. 
The discomforting truth is that we can choose not to submit, not to put on the yoke of Christ and learn from him. We can choose to believe that our sin isn't really sin, or that our disordered passions aren't really disordered, or that our vices aren't really vicious. But reality doesn't bend to wishes and make-believe. If you will be who you were made to be – a New Creation in Christ, a living temple for the Spirit of God – you will take on his yoke and learn. Jesus pleads with us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

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04 July 2017

Two Revolutions (2009)

Independence Day (2009)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Sisters of St Mary of Namur, Fort Worth, TX

Jesus says to John's disciples, “No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth...People do not put new wine into old wineskins.” What does this bit of homespun wisdom have to do with weddings, fasting, the Pharisees, mourning the death of a bridegroom, and the price of camels in Jerusalem? Better yet: what do any of these have to do with the American Revolution and this country's declaration of independence from the tyranny Old King George? Is Jesus teaching us to party while we can b/c we won't be around forever? Is he arguing that we ought to be better stewards of our antiques—human and otherwise? Or maybe he's saying that the time will come when the older ways can no longer be patched up and something fundamentally new must replace what we have always had, always known. When “the way we have always done it” no longer takes us where we ought to go; when the wineskin, the camel, the cloak no longer holds its wine, hauls its load, or keep us warm, it's time to start thinking about a trip to the market to haggle for something new.

We celebrate two revolutions today: one temporal and one eternal, one local and the other cosmic. The political revolution freed a group of colonies in the New World from the corruption of an old and dying Empire. The spiritual revolution freed all of creation from the chains of sin and death. Today, we give God thanks and praise for the birth of the United States of America by celebrating our 4th of July freedoms. And we give God thanks and praise for the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ by celebrating this Eucharist, the daily revolution that overthrows the regime of sin and spiritual decay.

The revolution of 1776 not only toppled the imperial rule of George III in the American colonies, but it also founded a way of life that celebrates God-gifted, self-evident, and unalienable human rights as the foundation of all civil government and social progress. The revolution that Christ led and leads against the wiles and temptations of the world fulfills the promise of our Father to bring us once again into His Kingdom—not a civil kingdom ruled by laws and fallible hearts, but a heavenly kingdom where we will do His will perfectly and thereby live more freely than we ever could here on earth. In no way do we understand this kingdom as simply some sort of future reward for good behavior. This is no pie in the sky by and by. Though God's kingdom has come with the coming of Christ, we must live as bodies and souls here and now, perfecting that imperfect portion of the kingdom we know and love. No revolution succeeds immediately. No revolution fulfills every promise at the moment of its birth. The women and slaves of the newly minted United States can witness to this hard fact. That we continue to sin, continue to fail, continue to rebel against God's will for us is evidence enough that we do not yet live in fullest days of the Kingdom. But like any ideal, any program for perfecting the human heart and mind, we can live to the limits of our imperfect natures, falling and trying again, knowing that we are loved by Love Himself. With diligence. With trust. With hope. With one another in the bonds of Christ's love, we can do more than live lackluster lives of mediocre compliance. We can work out our salvation in the tough love of repentance and forgiveness, the hard truths of mercy and holiness.

Christ is with us. The Bridegroom has not abandoned us. His revolution continues so long as one of us is eager to preach his Word, teach his truth, do his good works. Today and everyday, we are free. And even as we celebrate our civil independence from tyranny, we must bow our heads to the Father and give Him thanks for creating us as creatures capable of living freely, wholly in the possibility of His perfection.

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02 July 2017

Worthy OR Unworthy. . .not both

13th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

It's standard Catholic fare these days on the internet and on TV for some Catholic personality or media-priest to declare that the Church must be more like Christ and drop her moral objections to [fill in the blank]. Without fail, that blank is filled with whatever trendy goofiness the elite secular culture is peddling this week, and it is always has something to do with sex. I wish I could tell you that this sort of thing is new in the Church, but it isn't. Since the day after the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church more than 2,000 years ago, there have been those in the Church who cannot or will not tolerate the discipline our faith requires of us. These days they are especially keen on distorting perfectly good Christian practices like mercy, love, forgiveness, etc. to undermine the Way, the Truth, and the Life that Christ died to give us. Perhaps the most pernicious distortion making the rounds right now is the idea that since none of us is perfectly morally good, we should just dump Christ's teachings on being worthy of him and ignore our responsibility to call one another to holiness. The Church has no business admonishing sinners we're told. Just allow Catholics their moral ignorance; it's the “pastoral thing to do.”

Jesus begs to differ. He says to his apostles no fewer than three times that it is possible for us to be unworthy of him. We are unworthy if (1) we love our parents more than we love him; (2) if we love our children more than we love him; and (3) if we fail to take up our cross and follow him. Why do these three specific failures make us unworthy of Christ? Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, if I find “my life” in my family and friends and in my self-centered interests, I will lose that life. BUT if I lose “my life” for the sake of Christ, in his name and for his mission, I will find it again. . .but radically altered. My family, friends, and interests don't simply vanish when I turn my life over to Christ; they return to me newly oriented, re-shaped at the root and pointed faithfully toward Christ. Now, I am able to love them all more perfectly through Christ, and see them all in his light. Our take-away here should be obvious: it is possible to be worthy of Christ and it is possible to be unworthy of him. But not both at the same time.

If I want to be unworthy of Christ, then all I have to do is love something or someone else more than I love him. If I love my car, my politics, my career, my sexuality, my bank account, my best friend, or anyone or anything else more than I love Christ, then I am unworthy of him. However, if I want to be made worthy of Christ, I give away my car, my politics, my career, my sexuality, my bank account, my best friend, and anyone or anything else that might diminish my love of Christ. When all these people and things return to me through Christ they will be radically re-oriented, fundamentally transformed in his likeness and given a new mission, a mission that is consistent with the ministry of the Body of Christ, the Church. I can choose to be worthy or unworthy. What I cannot do is choose to be worthy, claim to be worthy, demand that the Church recognize me as worthy and surrender nothing of what I love more than Christ. I may find a priest or bishop or Catholic media personality willing to pump me up and tell my sad story, but without the Cross, without my sacrifice, my surrender, I am telling and living a lie. Jesus can't say it anymore plainly than he does: “. . .whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

Pope Francis has suggested that we see the Church as a “field hospital” where wounded patients come for emergency treatment. This is a brilliant image! Those sick with sin and wounded by the world can find immediate spiritual treatment in the sacramental care of the Church. Staying with that image. . .what would we say of someone who comes to the hospital and demands to be admitted as a patient; demands that the doctors not call their wounds wounds; refuses treatment of any kind; and then demands the doctors cease treating all the other patients with similar wounds? Furthermore, what would we say about a doctor who facilitates the admission of this person and bows to their demands? A doctor who looks at an obviously broken arm, says its not broken, does nothing to fix the arm, and then demands that the other doctors stop fixing all of the other obviously broken arms b/c they aren't really broken? I think you would say with me that we've entered some sort of Catholic Twilight Zone! If the Church is a “field hospital,” she is also a “medicinal community” where sickness and wounds are constantly treated as such. If no one is sick or wounded, then there is no necessary treatment. If there is no treatment to be given, then why are we here? 
We are here b/c we know that to be worthy of Christ, to be made worthy of Christ we must first surrender everything and everyone we love, submerging ourselves fully in the Love Who loves us first. That means drowning our actual sins, our disordered passions, our vices and allowing them to fall away in favor of being New Creations. We cannot be who God made us to be if we cling to the old self, demanding that the Truth change to fit our personal preferences. Christ changes us; we do not and cannot change Christ. If you will to be worthy of him, then “you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

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29 June 2017

Are you a Parlor Christian?

Ss. Peter and Paul
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

In his homily for this solemnity, Pope Francis asks us to consider this question: are we parlor Christians or apostles on the go? That phrase – “parlor Christians” – makes me smile b/c I remember my grandmother's parlor. Pristine; immaculately decorated with bric-a-brac, hand-painted ceramics, family pictures in heavy frames. I remember the sofa with its tiny embroidered floral patterns and oddly shaped pillows. What I remember most vividly, however, is the box of candy she kept on the coffee table. Candy forever out of my reach b/c the parlor was forbidden to five-year old's with grubby hands and feet. When Pope Francis asks us if we are “parlor Christians” or “apostles on the go,” I imagine that box of candy – tempting, just within reach – protected by the sanctity of the parlor's cleanliness, its holiness, if you will. That parlor was so set apart from the rest of my grandmother's house that it seemed another world, another time entirely. It was a sanctuary, a museum of sorts that trapped a treasure in uselessness. Are you a parlor Christian or an apostle on the go?

What is a “parlor Christian”? Parlor Christians are those who see God's graces as treasures to be hoarded and put on display, protected from grubby hands and feet, kept far away from the work-a-day world of sinning and forgiving. Like that room in grandma's house that serves no real, living purpose, parlor Christians are set-away, forbidding, almost lifeless in their determination to remain untouched by living in the goodness of creation. Guarding a treasure rather than using it, they worship the idea of holiness rather than allowing the Divine Treasure to make them truly holy in the world, for the world. Pope Francis – needless to say! – urges us to be apostles on the go. Like Peter and Paul, apostles for the establishment and spread of the Good News. Like Peter and Paul, witnesses unto death for the truth of the Gospel, bearing testimony in our words and deeds to the freely offered mercy of the Father to sinners. Like Peter and Paul, apostles who get dirty when we work, tired when we play. But who always rely entirely on the treasured graces abundantly poured by our Father Who never ceases to send us out again and again – fully equipped, well-rested, and ready to speak His word of truth.


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25 June 2017

Fear No One

12th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

“Fear no one,” Jesus says. Fear is an enemy of faith, a first-cousin to anxiety and one step away from despair. He's not talking about the sort of fear we experience when the movie-monster jumps out from behind the cellar door. Or when we're startled by a loud noise. He's talking about that sort of fear that paralyzes, the sort of fear that prevents us from doing what is true, good, and beautiful b/c we cannot see beyond our words or actions. We don't know what's going to happen to us if we speak up or take action in our pursuit of the truth. We know we should speak the truth, but speaking the truth might get us fired, or unfriended, or cause a stink. Acting to bring about the good might stir up trouble or offend someone. Jesus is reminding his disciples and us that we are obligated to speak the truth and work diligently to bring about the good. It's not enough to think true thoughts and imagine good works. As followers of Christ we are heralds – like John the Baptist – heralds of the Good News in this world. When the truth must be spoken and the good done, “fear no one. . .What [Christ says] to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Fear is a paralyzing silence that no follower of Christ can tolerate.

As I've said, fear is an enemy of faith, a first-cousin to anxiety and one step away from despair. Those who lie for power, do evil for their own good, and destroy what is beautiful depend on the paralyzing silence of those who have seen and heard the truth. What better way for evil to flourish than for Christians to stand silent, surrendering their faith to fear and giving their persecutors the satisfaction of seeing the Good News of Jesus Christ die on our lips? Our Lord tells us to fear no one NOT b/c he's going to strike them down for opposing us. Not b/c he's going to deny them the occasional victory. But b/c – in the end – the Father's will rules all. In the end, and the beginning and the middle, the cross wins. Divine love, Christ's sacrifice wins. We do not need to fear those who oppose the Gospel b/c the Gospel has already won. We do need to bear constant and consistent witness to the Gospel b/c its good news is fresh daily, and not everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear has seen and heard it. And not only that – but the principal beneficiary of bearing witness to the Good News is the witness him or herself. What better conditions the muscles of faith than lifting the Gospel up for all to see and hear?

Look for a moment at Jeremiah. When his friends betray him and seek to destroy him, he bears witness to the Lord's help, “. . .the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.” Now, Jeremiah may be boasting a bit here, but we cannot accuse him of faithlessness or fearfulness. He trusts the Lord absolutely and is unashamed to proclaim it! Can you and I say the same? When presented with an opportunity – public or private – to speak the truth of the faith to others, do we fulfill our baptismal vows, or do we sit in paralyzed silence, afraid that we might offend or cause trouble? If we choose silence, why? In that moment, who or what causes our silence? Whoever or whatever causes us to fail is more important to us than our faith in Christ Jesus. Here we listen again to our Lord say, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” 
Fear no one, and speak the truth. Without squeamishness, without waffling or equivocation, speak the truth. In-fashion, out-of-fashion, trendy or not, speak the truth. Whatever the consequences, when called upon to do so, regardless of the circumstances, speak the truth of the Good News. There is nothing and no one – in this world – to fear. The Enemy thrives on our silence and inactivity. When we are complacent, he is working hardest. When we have given up, he is just getting started. If you think your words and deeds are useless against the world, remember for whom you speak – the one whose victory on the cross brought eternal life from death by the forgiveness of sin. “What [Christ says] to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

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20 June 2017

Reading List for Fall Semester 2017

In case anyone is interested in what Notre Dame pre-theologians and theologians are reading in my classes next fall. . .

HP 201: Intro to Homiletics

Dante, A., The Divine Comedy: Purgatory. 

Lewis, C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Milosz, Czeslaw, New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001

O'Connor, Flannery, The Complete Stories

Percy, Walker, The Last Gentleman

HP505 (Homiletic Practicum II)

Cameron, Peter John. Why Preach?

Carl, Scott. Verbum Domini and the Complementarity of Exegesis and Theology

Schall, James. A Line Through the Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven.

PH202 (Philosophy of God) 

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa theologiae, Prima Pars, Q. 1-26 (text available on-line)

Davies, Brian. Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil.

Gilson, Etienne. God & Philosophy.

PH506 (Philosophical Theology) 

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa theologiae, Prima Pars, Q. 1-26 (text available on-line)

Davies, Brian. Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil.

Gilson, Etienne. God & Philosophy.

Leslie, J. The Mystery of Existence: Why is There Anything at All?


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18 June 2017


I've been away for three weeks!

Now I'm back.

Spent two weeks amongst the Squirrels of Mississippi.

Yesterday, I drove with another OP friar to Houston where my former U.D. student, Thomas More (Rudy) Barba, OP was ordained a priest.  Our brother, Carl Paustian was also ordained a deacon. 

The arthritis in my knees is getting steadily worse. Oy.

At the end of July I'm giving a retreat to a group of lay OP's in Birmingham, AL at the Sister Servants place. The retreat is titled, Prayer: You're Doing It Wrong (and how to do it right).

Mendicant Thanks to E.M. for the books! E.M., shoot me an email and update me on how things are going for you discernment-wise.

One of the philosophers at Notre Dame Seminary is on sabbatical next year, so I'm taking on some of his classes. In the fall I'm teaching Philosophy of God/Philosophical Theology. Should be fun.

That's all for now. I'm be back on my regular preaching rotation at Our Lady of the Rosary starting next Sunday (June 25th).


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28 May 2017

No time for doubt. . .there's work to do!

The Ascension of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
His disciples abandon him in the garden. They betray him in fear. They question his resurrection, and his appearances after the resurrection. And yet, they find themselves again and again in his company. After his resurrection, our Lord stays with his students, instructing them, comforting them, promising them his constant company. And yet, they doubt. They obey, but they doubt. They worship, but they doubt. Jesus lays out for them their mission as apostles, their duties as men who will receive from him his Holy Spirit. And he gives them these final instructions just before he departs to sit at the Father’s right hand in heaven. Fully God and fully man, Jesus rises to the Father, body and soul, and leaves his friends to do what he has ordered. Even as they stand there, hearing his words, watching him rise, they doubt. Nothing he has done has moved them to fully believe, to accept, completely, with whole hearts who and what he is. They worship, but they doubt. And so, they stand there looking at the sky.

It's easy for us on this side of Pentecost’s history. We know that whatever hesitations, whatever reservations they might have had about Christ and his mission are set on fire and turned to ash with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. But we are on this side of history, looking back. We read in Acts, Jesus says to the disciples, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We read in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “…[God] put all things beneath [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” This is not the witness of timid men, men who doubt yet worship. These are men who worship in spirit and in truth! We can easily understand how such faith and passion is possible, looking back as we do, standing here after the coming of the Holy Spirit. But then, way back then, as they stand on that mountain in Galilee, looking at the sky, they doubt.

And how does Jesus treat their doubt? Before his ascension he indulges their need for evidence, presenting his glorified body for their inspection. He chastises them, “Do you still not believe!?” He teaches them again where to find him in the prophecies of scripture. And they still doubt. Do we find this doubt so difficult to understand? Probably not. How often do we find ourselves questioning our faith, struggling with answers to questions we barely understand? How often, when evil seems to defeat us, do we question God’s promises? Question His love for us? More often than we would like admit? And yet, we worship. We pray. We come to praise His name and Him thanks. We do what they did and will likely do so again. How does Jesus handle our misgivings about his witness? He us, his Church, a monumental job to do.

It makes no sense at all for you to give a job to someone you do not trust. And it makes no sense for you to be given a job, which left undone, leaves you and the one who has given you the job defeated. We entrust important jobs to those we know will do what needs to be done. We are given jobs because we are trusted. And yet, there Jesus stands, on the mountain in Galilee, in front of his doubting disciples, saying to them and us, “Go…and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Why does he trust us? Why, knowing our hearts to be brimming over with fear and hesitation, why does he give us this monumental task? Because he knows that the work he is giving us to do is his work and that because he is ascending to the Father, he will send them the Holy Spirit, thus fulfilling his final promise to us: “And, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The ascension of our Lord is the fulfillment of his promise to be with us always. By leaving us back then, he remains with us even now. By going to the Father, he sends his Spirit, who abides, always, forever with us. This solemnity is not about celebrating another miracle or recalling another sign of his heavenly power. Do we really need such a thing? This solemnity is about teaching us again that Christ’s work is our work and the job we have to do, we do not do alone. Even together, as the body the Church, we cannot witness, cannot teach, cannot preach, cannot do justice, cannot pray without his company. Without his company, we are nothing. With him, we are Christ, baptizing, teaching, observing his commandments. With him, we are his heirs among the holy ones; we are the very revelation of the Father to the world; we are this world’s hope, this world’s sacrament, this world’s salvation. Without him, we are nothing. With all of our doubts on full display – our flaws, our failures, our sad little sins – we are everything with him. And everything we are is Christ. How? He is with us always!

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21 May 2017

The Dominican Option

6th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel/OLR, NOLA

The world cannot accept the Spirit of Truth b/c the world does not see or know the Father. The world does not see or know the Father b/c the world rejected His Christ – the only Way of seeing and knowing the Father. The world, those in the world, are orphans – bereft of mother and father, left without a family, a home, a place to be at peace. They call the world their home, but the world is home to no one. It lives and moves to serve its own perverse purposes, and eats alive anyone who makes it their god. You see, the world isn't a person or a place; it's a spirit, the living principle of rebellion and disease, the anti-Christ – the opposite of Christ. For us, Christ lived and died in love so that we might be made heirs to the Father's kingdom in the Spirit, so that we might dwell in the Spirit of Truth and find eternal life. The world offers false promises, dead-end deals, and baits us with the temptation of becoming gods without God. Christ frees us from sin and death, making us orphans of the world but not orphans in the world. When we abide in the Spirit of Truth, dwelling fully in the love of the Father and Son for one another, we come to know the freedom of the children of God. That freedom compels us – in word and deed – to bear witness to Christ and his works.

Now, we might be tempted to rest on our redeemed laurels and just wait out the end of the world. We might be tempted to sit pretty atop our pillar of righteousness and watch the world burn. We could say to the world, “We got ours. If you want yours. . .come to us.” This attitude is a recipe for whipping up a big bowl of arrogant pride. Christ did not command us to find our salvation in him and then sit back and wait for others to make their way to us hat-in-hand. His command – “Go out to all the world” – is unambiguous and final. There is no rest for us if we will be obedient to our Lord and remain in his love. Divine Love is diffusive by nature; that is, what Love is spreads around to all as a matter of Who Love Is. Our salvation through Christ is not a secret. It's not a treasure to be hoarded. It's not a priceless commodity to be dribbled out only to the truly deserving. We are left in this world as children of the Father so that we might be the living lights of His boundless mercy and love. We are not here to survive. We're here to thrive – to thrive as vocal, active, unrelenting witnesses to the power of the Father's offer of forgiveness to all sinners. Anyone who hears should hear. Anyone who sees should see. Our job is make sure that those who are of this world see and hear – from us – all that they need to come to the Christ. 
There's been a lot in the Catholic news lately about how we should prepare ourselves to become a cultural minority in the U.S. One option – called The Benedict Option from the founder of monasticism, St. Benedict – suggests that we should remove ourselves to culturally and religiously pure enclaves and ride out the secular storm. In this model, our task would be to preserve Christian culture as a sort of seed-plot, a remnant of true-believers who will emerge into a devastated world to begin again. Our communities will be something like the Benedictine monasteries of 9th and 10th century Europe – bastions of learning, culture, and religious practice. I understand the impulse behind his idea. We're losing battle after battle in the world, and our once stalwart Catholic institutions – universities, religious orders, hospitals – have surrendered to the Spirit of the Age. Renewal and reform from the ground up is beyond necessary at this point – we're teetering on the edge of cultural irrelevance and outright persecution. In some parts of the world, being a Christian is enough to have your head put on a spike. Retreating and regrouping is not only attractive but it might our only option in the years to come.

However, as you might guess, I'm inclined toward another option. Let's call it The Dominican Option. The Order of Preachers was found in 1216 by St. Dominic de Guzman to preach the Good News and care for souls. He founded the Dominicans as a hybrid order – part monastic, part diocesan – so that the friars might live in community like monks but serve in the world like diocesan priests. The Dominican option is faithful to Christ's command that we “go out to all the world” and at the same time allows us to maintain the boundaries of our Catholic identity without compromise. In effect, we come to see ourselves as Christ's Viruses, inflecting the world body with the Good News of the Father's grace and mercy. Viruses are adaptable when attacked. They evolve with the environment without ceasing to be what they are. Viruses are even capable of altering their environment when they reach a critical mass. What we bring to the world as Christ's Viruses is a 2,000 year old intellectual, spiritual, pastoral, and humane tradition of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The Church is not charged with preserving our tradition for the sake of tradition; we're charged with using our tradition for the sake of preaching of the Good News and the care of souls.

The Dominican Option for the Church takes Peter's admonition seriously, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. . .” It's not clear to me how we can give an explanation for our hope from behind a wall. The Christian's explanation for his/her hope must be given in the public square – at work, the mall, the bank, in the schools, at home, wherever a Christian happens to be, there the explanation must be given. If you abide in the love of Christ, your explanation will be the words and deeds of your daily life. The Spirit of Truth will abide with you and see that you are not troubled.
NB. I want to be absolutely clear here that I am in no way denigrating the monastic life. Dominic founded the nuns before he founded the friars b/c he knew that the friars would need some powerful spiritual support in their ministry. The options being discussed in the media are suggesting various ways that the whole Church might be reconfigured for reform. Turning the whole Church into a monastery is my target here.

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14 May 2017

Among Yet Set Apart

5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

During their last supper together, Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him to the authorities. Peter balks, swearing up and down that he would never betray his Master. Jesus says Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” Here's where our gospel scene this evening picks up, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Christ's three-year ministry among God's people is unraveling. The Romans are paying way too much attention to them. The High Priest is definitely looking for a way to crush them. Jesus himself just told them a member of their little family is going to sell him out. And now, Jesus reveals that Peter – the Rock! – is going to deny even knowing Christ. And what's Jesus' advice? “Do not let your hearts be troubled”! If there were ever a time for the disciples to let their hearts be troubled, it's now! They're plucked chickens about to be thrown to the gators. The feeding frenzy of Roman justice and Jewish revenge they're facing is going to be brutal. And all Jesus can say is: “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

Had I been there with the disciples, listening to Jesus' words with my own ears, I would've been tempted to blurt out: “How is faith alone gonna protect us from our enemies?!” And I imagine Jesus would've said something like, “When did I promise you that having faith in me would keep you safe from the world?” Hearing this, my mind would rewind back over the three years of sermons and lectures, looking for a loophole. Alas! No such promise – I'd have to confess – was ever made. In fact, Jesus promised that believing in him would make us enemies of the world, targets for the Enemy's deviltry. So why then does Jesus attempt to calm his disciples by exhorting them to greater faith if faith isn't going to protect them from the world? Simply put: faith in Christ isn't about protection from hurt, loss, the world, or evil; it's about receiving that which is necessary for growing in holiness. From God Himself we receive the desire and ability to trust Him, the desire and ability to live our lives rooted in the reality of His promises. Faith doesn't make the bad things go away. Faith makes it possible for us to live with the bad things and come out the other side holier for having done so.
So, how does living with the bad things in faith make us holier? First, we have to understand holiness as “being set apart for a purpose.” The BVM is holy b/c is she was set apart to be the Mother of God. An altar is holy b/c it is set apart for the celebration of the Eucharist. A Bible is holy b/c it is set apart as a means of delivering the Word of God. We are made holy at baptism – set apart from the world in order to serve as living, breathing witnesses to the Good News. Next, we have to understand that the things of this world – the powers, the principalities, the temptations, sin and death – are ever-present, all-consuming, and always ready to make us slaves again. We must live among these things to live in the world, but we do not have to be subject to them. Remember: we are set apart. We belong to Christ. Then, lastly, knowing that we belong to Christ, and that we have a mission to bear witness to his Good News, we live among yet set apart from the things of this world. Not above nor beyond. (That's a temptation to pride and arrogance). But among yet set apart. When we live as Christ teaches us to live – with faith, hope, love, mercy – we grow in holiness; we grow more and more Among Yet Set Apart. And this growth settles our troubled hearts.

You see, as priests, prophets, and kings in Christ we have no reason to be troubled. There is – literally – nothing in or on this world that can trouble us b/c we know that our lives belong to him. Of course – we get sick. We die. We suffer. We lose our jobs, our family members. We have strange accidents that sometimes cripple us. All the horrible things that can happen to non-believers can and do happen to us. Faith in Christ is not a magical amulet that prevents these things from happening. Faith in Christ is a fortitude, a bulwark that allows us to see the holy work of God, His plan for us, and to understand our everyday joys and miseries as opportunities to be Christ for others. We turn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We turn to our Blessed Mother and beg her intercession. We turn to Christ in the Holy Sacrament. We turn to one another in the Church so that the face of Christ might be closer and clearer. We do not entertain despair, revenge, anger, injustice, nor do we hold ourselves above the ordinary mourning of those left behind. When our hearts are troubled – and they will be – we turn to the only source of consolation that can truly bring us life. We turn to Christ.

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