16 September 2018

Choose to Follow Christ!

24th Sun OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

There's no way out of this. I'm sorry. But there isn't. Peter tries to get out of it. And Jesus calls him “Satan.” I mean, we can get out of it – get out of having to deny ourselves; out of picking up our crosses – we can. But if I choose to avoid the painful parts of following Christ, I will save my life now only to lose it later. . .and forever. When Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter correctly answers, “You are the Christ.” Jesus isn't playing a trivia game. He's not giving Peter a pop-quiz to check his reading comprehension. Jesus is asking Peter – the Rock – to choose his path, to choose the Way he will live and die and live again. Peter chooses correctly. . .at first. After Jesus prophesies about how he will suffer and die at the hands of his enemies, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Mark doesn't tell us why Peter does this, but we can imagine. Peter loves Jesus. He doesn't want to believe that the Christ, the promised Messiah will be tortured and executed by those who hate him. Fair enough. But Jesus rebukes Peter in turn, naming him “Satan” – accuser, betrayer, enemy. Like many of us at different points in our lives, Peter is happy about the idea of Christ but not so happy about actually following Christ. . .following him all the way to the Cross.

So, which will be it for you: the idea of Christ, or actually following Christ? What's the difference? Choosing the idea of Christ means thinking good thoughts about Jesus. Being content with the occasional trip to church. Maybe wearing a cross or a crucifix. Hanging a framed picture of the Sacred Heart in my home. Choosing the idea of Christ might mean I can recite a couple standard Catholic prayers – “Our Father,” “Hail Mary.” It means having a generalized sense of myself as someone who identifies as a Christian. . .as opposed to identifying myself as a Buddhist or a Muslim or an atheist. The idea of Christ doesn't really change that much about how I live my daily life; how I treat my family, my friends, my co-workers. It doesn't influence my moral choices, or in any way disturb my material comfort. In other words, by choosing the idea of Christ I can easily slide into the flow of the world without stirring up any opposition; without being seen as a problem for others. I can pass as a good citizen of this world while thinking of myself as a worthy member of Team Jesus, hoping that I'm never sent it to actually play. Choosing the idea of Christ means privacy, anonymity; a life without sacrifice.

Choosing to actually follow Christ is quite different. As Peter and the other apostles soon discover. It was the idea of Christ that moved Peter to rebuke Jesus. To deny him three times in the Garden. It was actually following Christ that put Peter on a cross in Rome, crucified upside down. Following Christ means denying myself. It means taking myself out of the center of life, replacing me with Christ. It means setting aside my wants, my preferences, my “felt needs.” It means removing from my heart and mind the choices the world has made for me and putting on the heart and mind of Christ – the heart and mind of sacrificial love. Following Christ means becoming alter Christus, another Christ. It means picking up my cross – the instrument of my suffering and death – and carrying it with me. Not as a reminder or a punishment. But as a source of strength and perseverance. While the idea of Christ leaves me to live in comfortable silence, following Christ compels me to teach and preach the Truth of the Good News. I am moved at the core of my being to shout about the Father's mercy to sinners. To tell the world about the new life He has given me. Following Christ is public, prominent; it is a life of sacrificial love.

The Church – the Body of Christ, you and me – the Church during these dark days of scandal and public ridicule must double and triple-down on following Christ. The desire to hide out and keep quiet in the face of media attention is understandable. But if there was ever a time for the followers of Christ to be publicly recognizable as such, publicly committed to the Gospel, it is now. St. James tells us that our faith is empty if we do not put that faith to work. If your faith is a vague notion floating around harmlessly in your head, now is the time to grab it and relocate it to your hands and feet and your tongue. Put your faith to work, following Christ, getting behind him and doing what he did, speaking out about the mercy you've been given; teaching others about the freedom you've received from your Heavenly Father. The Church as an institution that chooses the idea of Christ is dead. It always has been and always will be. The Church follows Christ. The Church – the Body of Christ – denies herself, picks up her Cross, and follows Christ. Do not leave yourself behind. Choose to follow Christ!

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

10 September 2018

Gratitude Cures Envy

23rd Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

One of the standards ways of interpreting our Gospel scene is to contrast the rigid, law-abiding Pharisees with the humane and merciful Jesus. The Pharisees are happy to see a man with a withered hand suffer if it means following the Law of the Sabbath. While Jesus is keen on showing us that mercy always triumphs over the Law when needs must. Nothing particularly wrong with that interpretation. But it doesn't tell us much about why the Pharisees are spying on Jesus. It doesn't tell us what motivates them to seek his destruction. For example, is it pride that compels them? Do they see Jesus as a threat to their self-worth? Or maybe it's wrath. They're angry with him for presuming to do what they claim only they can do. Of course, there could be several different motivations. But if I had to pick one, I'd pick the capital sin of envy. Aquinas teaches us that envy is the sorrow I feel about another person's gift when I falsely believe that that gift has been taken from or withheld from me. The Pharisees and scribes see Jesus' gift of healing and they are envious b/c they falsely believe that that gift should be theirs. 
Why would they believe that they should possess this gift of healing? They are religious leaders. Spiritual guides. They know Scripture. They are placed closer to God in virtue of their holiness, their righteousness under the Law. They wield popular political influence. So, they should be the ones healing withered hands not this jump-up prophet from some podunk backwoods town! But here's the problem with envy: you and I have no right to the gifts we receive. God freely gives His gifts and we freely receive them. So, the Devil wins when I spend my time envying your gifts rather than cultivating my own. The Devil also wins when I spend my time following you around trying to catch you using your gifts at the wrong time or for the good of the wrong person. So while my gifts are being destroyed through neglect, you're using yours for the greater glory of God! What's left for me but to be enraged? If I would follow Christ, I would cease coveting your gifts and give thanks to God for my own, asking Him for the strength and perseverance to cultivate what He has already given me. As is always the case, gratitude to the Father prevents a multitude of sins.


Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

09 September 2018

Preach like you mean it!

23rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Perm. Deacons' Retreat, Lumen Christi Center

Ears and a tongue. Three essential tools of a preacher. Ears to hear the Word of God and a tongue to proclaim His Good News to sinners. If the ears can't hear, then the preacher cannot listen to the Word or to those to whom he preaches or even to himself! And w/o a tongue, how can a preacher speak the truth of God's mercy; how can he encourage or admonish or instruct? Of course, there are many ways to preach beyond words. Exemplary deeds. Living a holy life. But for those who have heard and accepted the call to ordained ministry – well, liturgical preaching is part of the job. So, we need our ears open and our tongues wagging. . .at least for the duration of the homily. While we know that the deaf and mute man that Jesus heals is physically impaired, we can ask ourselves: is my hearing impaired? My speech? Is there something or someone who makes me deaf to God's Word, unable to speak His truth? If we are to preach like we mean it – boldly, clearly, with authenticity – we cannot (by our own choices) make ourselves deaf and mute.
Maybe we should explore a bit. What or who could cause us to become deaf to God's Word? There's no denying it: we live in dangerous times. Not physically dangerous. . .yet. But it isn't exactly pleasant being an ordained minister of the Church in 2018. The recent scandals have left many of us disgusted, angry, disappointed, maybe even a little ashamed. Though these reactions are perfectly just, they cannot be allowed to turn us away from God, away from His Word or His Church. It is too simple a thing to ignore the Father's call for justice, to simply shut out the words of His prophets and pretend that this storm – like many others – will pass, leaving you and me and ours untouched. God's Word is the living testimony of men and women long dead, men and women who encountered the Living God and knew His presence sustained them through the worst of all the troubles they had caused for themselves. Scripture is clear: God often allows those He loves to experience the consequences of their sin. Rather than protect us from the results of our disobedience, He allows “nature to take its course.” That's hard. Especially when so many innocents will likely suffer. Even so, we have ears to hear, so listen: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” He is saving the Church. And we must listen!

What about our tongues? What or who could cause them to get stuck? The greatest enemy of the preacher's tongue is fear. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of being unpopular. Fear of being accused of hypocrisy. Fear has no place in the preacher's life. If the preacher is preaching God's Word and not his own opinions and ideas, then his proclamation of the Good News will be fearless. The truth is often hard to speak. Hard to hear. Even harder to live out. But truth is truth and there is no profit in trying to bury it in softness and sweet. There's no need for any of us to become fire-breathing Baptists! But boldness, clarity, and authenticity in a homily carry are more than capable of carrying the weight of truth. Yes, it would be easier, more polite, less controversial to tell funny stories in the pulpit, to urge people to be kinder to one another, or to pony up a little more in the collection plate for a roof repair. But right now, in September of 2018, in the U.S., God's people need to hear the truth. They need – even want – to be told about human sin, divine mercy, the reality of evil, and the always already accomplished victory of Christ on his Cross. Preach these fearlessly and you will see holiness flourish.

It's strange. Jesus opens the man's ears and unsticks his tongue only to tell him not to tell anyone about the miracle. “But,” Mark writes, “. . .the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.” Why? Why do they disobey the Lord? Mark says, “They were exceedingly astonished. . .” Exceedingly astonished. As preachers and teachers of the Good News of Christ Jesus, we too must be exceedingly astonished by the Father's mercy – His freely offered gift of forgiveness for our sins. When you think about, pray about, and begin to compose your homilies, do you consider yourself exceedingly astonished? That you have been chosen and ordained to embody in word and deed the Living Word of God? Are you exceedingly astonished that the Holy Spirit is a promised presence in your lives? That He is with you, in you, all around you as you prepare to speak His truth from the pulpit? God's people need/want a prophetic word from you. They want it boldly, clearly, authentically. Go home. Preach like you know it. Preach like you love it. Preach like you mean it.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

02 September 2018

Sins that kill the soul

NB. Deacon is preaching tonight at OLR. Here's one from 2012. . .right after Hurricane Isaac.

22nd Sun OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

When our power went out last Tuesday around five o'clock, I gave a mighty sigh and prepared myself for a day or two of no A/C, no hot water, no lights. Like any good Dominican would, I went to my bookshelf and asked, “What does one read while a hurricane rages outside?” I rejected poetry—too ethereal for a storm. I rejected current events—what can I do about Iran's nuclear build-up or the collapse of the Eurozone during a hurricane? I rejected theology—that's too much like work for a priest. That left philosophy. It took me about two minutes to find William Barrett's classic 1958 study of European existentialism. Given that Isaac was slowing reducing New Orleans to a Stone Age village, the title of his book seemed more than appropriate, Irrational Man. (After four days w/o A/C and a hot shower, “irrational man” pretty much describes me to a tee)! Barrett argues that as a philosophy outside the mainstream western obsession with science and technology, existentialism challenges the human soul to face the deeply abiding problems of what it means to exist, to simply Be. He writes, “A single atmosphere pervades [all truly human problems] like a chilly wind: the radical feeling of human finitude”(36). At the root of being human is the gnawing truth that we are limited, impermanent. The Psalmist rebuts, “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” 

Living in the presence of the Lord is the Father's promise to His children; it is the one hope that keeps crippling despair at bay. If we cannot and do not live with one another in the hope of the resurrection, then the oppressive weight of our mortality, the various spiritual diseases of our finitude can and will crush us, leaving us broken and dying. Barrett notes that as modern men and women we are confronted by a curious problem: as citizens of an increasingly secular culture we have come face-to-face with this “radical feeling of human finitude” at a time when our science and technology promise us nearly limitless knowledge, nearly limitless control. IOW, as our culture abandons the possibility of life beyond death (abandons God) and falls into mortal despair, we find some glimmer of hope in the power we possess to manipulate our physical world through the tools of material science. Our hope is not in the name of the Lord; our hope is in the name of Genetics, Physics, Chemistry, Nanotechnology—a pantheon for 21st century man, these are the gods who will save our bodies but cannot save our souls. The Psalmist patiently reminds us, “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” 

So, you must be wondering: what does the fragility of human life and our deeply seated fear of nothingness have to do with this morning's gospel? Where's the Good News among the bad? The Good News is that even as we lament the death of our innocence in the face of war, terrorism, and natural disaster; even as we mourn the loss of reason's rule in our politics, our universities, and our media; even as we cry over the impoverishment of our collective imagination to exclude God, the saints, angels, demons, miracles, and the promise of eternal life after death; even as we surrender—as a culture—to the idolatrous practice of depending on science and technology to grant us hope for the future, the Good News remains constant, steadfast: we are creatures, crafted beings, drawn from the dust of the earth and given life by a God Who loved us at our creation, loves us now, and will always love us. This truth is not “worn over” creation like a garment but woven into everything and everyone that exists. God spoke the Word “Love” and we are. And nothing—not economic crises, not princes nor presidents; not wars, terrorist bombs, plagues; not science, technology, genetics; not even hurricanes can change the fundamental constitution of God's creation: we live, move, and have our being in Love. 

That's the Good News. Now that we know the Good News, what do we do about it? Barrett argues that modern man's confrontation with the “radical feeling of human finitude” has hobbled us with indecision and angst—a deadly moral impotence that allows violence and power to thrive in the vacuum abandoned by Christian virtue. Once upon a time, no one in the West denied the existence of God. They argued over His nature, His attributes, His will; but no one argued for atheism. Flowing naturally from a belief in the reality of God came a belief in the natural law—that all things were created to become perfect in themselves. From revelation and the natural law we derived the virtues, those good human habits that define us as loving creatures living in community. And from the virtues we derived natural human rights and legislated through our kings, parliaments, and congresses laws to uphold justice and peace. When a human law violated the natural law, we rebelled and overthrew the human law. There is no moral obligation to obey an unjust law. In fact, there is a moral obligation to disobey an unjust law. Justice always trumps the merely legal. 

What does the Good News tell us to do? Jesus shames the Pharisees for imposing unjust rules and regulations on their people. He quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.” Then he adds, “You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition.” Why is their worship vain? The honor they pay to God is from their lips not their hearts. The Pharisees have abandoned hope and embraced regulation; they've surrendered to the lazy spirituality of following rules, thus giving up on the hard work of actually loving one another. Jesus goes to the root of the problem, saying, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” A hardened heart, a heart that has willed itself closed to love will produce “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” These are the sins that kill a soul, that murder charity and turn us away from God. James reminds us of our origins, “[The Father] willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” We are born of truth and from truth justice flows. We are the firstfruits, the first born from His justice. And it is God's justice that stands with us when human finitude threatens us with despair. 

The Psalmist sings, “One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” The Goods New of Jesus Christ does not urge us to do justice. We are not encouraged or hectored to do justice. We are given a simple, elegant choice: do justice and live in the presence of the Lord, or don't. If we love the Lord and love him in service to one another, then justice abides where love prevails. The despair that might dawn on us when we come to realize our mortality, our finitude is nothing when set side-by-side with the promise of eternal life. Barrett is right: modern western men and women are besieged by the problems of that arise when they rapidly and recklessly abandon of God. As lovers of God and followers of His Christ, we are gathered and sent to be missionaries, living reminders that though human beings are finite creatures, we are not yet perfect, not yet made perfect. When we love and act lovingly; when we hope and live hopefully; when we trust God and demonstrate that trust, our creaturely limits are defeated, and God receives the glory. So, “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you,” and in justice, see God's will done.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

26 August 2018

This is War

21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Jesus tells the truth. And b/c they find truth shocking, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” What is this shocking truth? That to attain eternal life we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Watching those who could not accept this hard saying walk away, Jesus asks the Twelve (and us), “Do you also want to leave?” After 2,000 years of Church teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist maybe this saying doesn't sound all that hard anymore. We understand what those who walk away did not. The bread and the wine of the Passover Feast become the Body and Blood of Christ, truly present in the sacrament. Not many of us these days are prepared to walk away from Christ b/c we find the idea of transubstantiation shocking. However, some might be tempted to walk away and return to their former way of life b/c they find the moral corruption eating away at the Church all too shocking and unacceptable. To these disciples Paul says, “. . .no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” We are members of Christ's body. Do not walk away from this hard truth.

As we continue to reel from revelation after revelation that Catholic clergy violated children, teens, and seminarians, and that bishops and cardinals conspired to cover-up these violations, we are tempted to look for causes and quick fixes. Mandatory celibacy is the problem! No, it's homosexuality in the clergy. Wrong. It's feminism or clericalism or communism or some other “–ism” that I find offensive. Whatever the immediate cause of this current crisis may be, the remote cause is quite easy to identify. It's been part and parcel of the human condition since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden: that devilish desire to become god w/o God, a.k.a. pride. Pride is the cardinal sin that drives all the others. And it remains the chief strategist and overall commander of how we betray God and our restored human nature. We cannot fight pride with self-righteousness or  unrighteous anger or calls for vengeance. Why? B/c these are the favored weapons of Pride. We fight with humility and mercy, undercutting the power of Pride to tempt us to betray Christ and his Church. We also fight using fidelity, following Christ faithfully, who alone has the words of eternal life.

Make no mistake about what's going on in the Church right now: this is a war, a spiritual war. And it's nothing new. It's the same war we have been fighting since the serpent tempted Eve. The principal combatants are the same. The weapons are the same. The causalities are the same. This war is fought cosmically, terrestrially, nationally; within each diocese and parish of the Church; within every family, every marriage, and within each and every one of us. And it's a war over a choice: to whom do you, do we belong? Whom do you serve? When Jesus asks the Twelve – “Do you also want to leave?” – he's asking them to choose. He's asking them to surrender themselves to the Father's living Word, or to walk away and resume their former way of life. He's asking us that same question, and the spiritual war we are fighting is about how we will answer. How we will answer as a Church, as a diocese, as a parish, and as individual members of his Body.
Jesus tells us the truth. The truth about how we are saved from our sins. How we are fed with his Body and Blood. How we are to be witnesses to the Father's mercy. He tells us the truth about how we are to live with one another so that we might grow in holiness. He himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and he asks us to choose: follow or walk away. Can you say: “Master, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life. I have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God”? If so, then your path is clear – follow Christ. Use his weapons to fight the battle: Repent. Forgive. Seek justice. Grow in holiness.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

25 August 2018

Do you also want to leave?

21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Jesus loses some of his disciples b/c he tells them the truth. He tells that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. This truth confuses some of them. Some were probably outraged or disgusted or even horrified at the thought. But the truth is the truth. . .and it will set you free. . .even when it works to make you sick. . .at first. Had those disgusted disciples hung around for just a little longer they might've attended the Last Supper and come to see the fullness of the truth Jesus came to preach. But b/c they chose to hear the truth only in part rather than in its entirety, they missed out. They missed out on the mystery of the Great Thanksgiving that we know as the Eucharist. When Jesus sees some of his disciples walking away, he turns to the Twelve and asks, “Do you also want to leave?” Perhaps sensing that there was More to Come, or believing that their Master wasn't done with them yet, they answer, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And for those who stayed true, eternal life was their reward. Looking at the mess the Church is in. . .again. . .Jesus' questions to his disciples become his questions to us: 1). Who can accept it? 2). Does this shock you? And 3). Do you also want to leave?

Obviously, these questions are asked in a very different context, so our answers will be different as well. No one should accept the corruption we've been made aware of. And anyone with a conscience is going to be shocked by it. But that last question – do you also want to leave? – this question remains the same regardless of context. I've been asked by otherwise faithful Catholics, “Father, why should I stay in the Church?” I answer, “Where else will you receive the bread of life and the chalice of salvation? Stay and fight! Don't surrender to the Enemy just b/c a few of your teammates have thrown the game.” I'd like to think that my fervent response is enough to help them hang in there, but I suspect that they will leave anyway. Maybe not formally withdraw from their parishes or renounce their baptism but leave nonetheless. While the disgusted disciples merely walked away from the truth Jesus taught, there are thousands of ways to leave the Body. And some of those ways brought us to our current crisis.

I don't want to indulge the temptation to find fault and place blame. There are enough Talking Heads out there with more than a few explanations for how the current corruption worked itself into the Church. It's celibacy's fault. It's a homosexual problem. No, it's clericalism. Wrong! It's feminism! My answer is simpler and non-ideological and therefore deeply unpopular. The Twelve say to Jesus when he asks if they too want to leave him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Corruption enters the Church every time one of us – a member of the Body – believes that he or she has found another Master, someone else to whom we can go; whenever one of us believes that someone other than Christ has the words of eternal life, and we drag that someone else into the Church as an alternative to the Real Deal. Whether that someone else is another religion's teachings, or a political ideology, or a New Age philosophy, or an old heresy warmed over for the digital age, the whole Body is corrupted when one of us makes his or her sin the foundation of the Body's salvation.  
Sisters, I don't need to tell you this, but maybe you need to hear it. I don't know. Christ alone has the words of eternal life. Christ alone brings us God's mercy for our sins. Christ alone teaches us how to grow in holiness. And only the Body and Blood of Christ can feed us with what we need to see the Father face-to-face. Thank God there is nowhere else for us to go. Because we are right where we need to be.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

19 August 2018

Do NOT be chased away!

20th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Bear with me for a minute or two while I drop into Professor Mode. A little history is necessary for any of what follows to make sense. Way back in the second and third centuries a heresy arose among Christians living in N. Africa. During the Roman persecutions, many Christians, including bishops and priests, apostatized – they renounced their baptism vows and offered idolatrous worship to the Roman Emperor. Not only did they offer worship to a false god they also betrayed their fellow Christians to the enemy, naming them and their families and sending many of them into martyrdom. Those who turned their backs on Christ and his Church were called “traditors,” those who hand over, traitors. When the persecutions ended, the traditors came back to the Church and asked to be forgiven and re-admitted. The laity among them were given severe penances and the clergy were declared defrocked. Some in the clergy though continued to celebrate the sacraments. Several bishops declared that any sacrament celebrated by a former traditor bishop or priest was invalid. They taught that only morally pure priests and bishops could celebrate the sacraments validly. Thus begun the 200 year long heresy known as Donatism.

If you've been paying attention to the most recent clerical scandals in the Church, you know why I started this homily the way I did. You are also probably asking yourself the same question I've been asked multiple times in the last few weeks: why should I remain Catholic? The Church is hopelessly corrupt. I'll give you the same answer I've been giving since 2002: No. The Church is not corrupt. The Church is indefectible, without defect. The Church is impeccable, without sin. Those who govern the Church – from the Pope on down to the parish priest – are not without defect nor sin. But the Church is more than the clergy. More than the religious. More than the laity. The Church includes – even now – more than 2,000 years of men and women who have given their lives to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. That adjective “catholic” means that the Church is universal in both time and space – in heaven, on earth, and in the world to come. You and I do not cease being Christians b/c we sin. And the Church does not cease being holy b/c some of her clergy choose to serve the Enemy. 
St. Augustine confronted the Donatist heretics and routed them. The moral state of a priest's or bishop's soul has no effect on the validity of the sacraments he celebrates. The principal celebrant of every sacrament is Christ himself. The ordained minister stands in personae Christi Capitis. So, whether my soul is black with mortal sin or not, this Mass will be valid. Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. ” Why should you stay in the Catholic Church? This evening you will be given the Body and Blood of Christ. You will be given true food and true drink. And if you receive worthily, you will walk out of this church tonight as a living, breathing tabernacle of the Real Presence of Christ, taking him – his mission and ministry – out into the world for the salvation of souls. Paul tells the Ephesians, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise. . .” The foolish person may abandon his/her only source of true food and drink. A wise person would never allow the evil of another to chase him/her away from the Lord. Be angry. Be frustrated. Be disappointed. I am! And I'm ashamed. What I am not is foolish! No matter bad it is or how bad it gets, Jesus reassures us, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” The wise soul will never be far from that altar.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

13 August 2018

Deus providebit!

19th Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Everyday during lunch at Notre Dame Seminary, the president of the Seminarian Association stands to deliver the day's announcements. When he finishes his list, he shouts, “God will provide!” The rest of us shout back, “Deus providebit!” God will provide. He will and He does. Precisely how He chooses to provide is often a surprise. A Big Surprise. But that's just part of the fun of being a follower of Christ. Take the strange episode we just heard from Matthew. Jesus and Peter are exempted from paying the Temple tax. In order not to offend either the Temple or the Empire, Jesus tells Peter to pay the tax anyway. Where will the money come from? Jesus tells Peter to go fishing. The fish he catches will have twice the amount of the tax in its mouth. God will provide. Now, Peter might have imagined any number of ways that Jesus could've produced the money for the tax bill. But I seriously doubt that he expected to find the coins in the mouth of a fish. Faith gives us every reason to believe that our loving God will give us all that we need to survive and even thrive. But faith cannot help us to know how these gifts will appear.

What faith can help us do is to rely on God's providence; that is, trusting in God's promises is the best way we have for living day-to-day. I know it sounds risky. Even irresponsible. But think about it: what's the alternative? Worrying about all the things we cannot possibly control? Living in a state of constant anxiety over every variable, every possible thing that can go wrong? That's not faith. That's the opposite of faith. In fact, it might be the height of pride for me to believe that I can control much beyond my own behavior. However, it's too easy a thing to say “Let Go and Let God.” He's not going to take over and manipulate us like puppets, relieving us of any and all responsibility. What we do is receive God's gifts. That's our job. God provides. We receive. And we put those good gifts to work for His glory. Unfortunately, sin prevents us from receiving all that God always has to give us. Instead of relying on His providence, we worry. We fret and wring our hands. None of which leads us to receive what's ours as heirs to the Kingdom. We are free men and women in Christ, free to ask, free to receive, free to give God thanks and praise for His generosity. Let the Devil worry. You, you go fishing.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

12 August 2018

"Take my life, Lord!"

NB. Deacon preached at OLR this morning. Here's mine from 2009. . .

19th Sunday OT (2009) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas 

Elijah, the prophet of God, prays for death: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life. . .” How thick, how deep must your despair be to pray for death? How heavy must your desperation be before you can no longer lift it? When do you cry to God: this is enough! Here and now, I am exhausted, weary beyond living. Elijah killed 450 prophets of Baal. For this reason, he confesses to his Lord, “. . .I am no better than my fathers. Take my life.” Elijah challenges Baal's prophets to a contest of power. He pits the real power of the Lord against the demonic power of the Canaanite god. Baal loses. And so do his prophets. Elijah marches the demon's priests to the River Kishon and cuts their throats. Fleeing the wrath of Jezebel for killing her prophets, Elijah goes into the desert and there he discovers—among the stones and sage brush—that he no longer wants to live. “This is enough, O Lord. Take my life. . .” Elijah, prophet of God, touched by His hand to speak His Word, despairs because he has murdered 450 men. What weight do you lift and carry? How thick and deep is the mire you must wade through? At what point do you surrender to God in anguish, walk into the desert, and pray for death? When you balance on the sharp point of desperation, poised to ask God to take your life, remember this: “When the afflicted call out, the Lord hears, and from all their distress He saves them! Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!” 

To varying degrees and in different ways, all of us have discovered in one sort of desert or another that we are tired, exhausted beyond going another step. Overwhelmed by studies, financial stresses, marital strife, family feuds, personal sin, physical illness, we have all felt abandoned, stranded. We might say that it is nothing more than our lot in life to rejoice when our blessings are multiplied and cry when the well runs dry. These deserts look familiar. We've been here before and doubting not one whit, we know we will visit them again. We hope and keep on; we pray and trust in God. This is what we do, we who live near the cross. But there are those times when the desert seems endless and only death will bring rescue. We find hope in dying. And so, we cry out to God: “Take my life, O Lord!” Is this the prayer we should pray when we find ourselves broken and bleeding in the deserts of despair? It is. There is none better. 

 The witness of scripture pokes at us to remember that our God provides. Beaten down and hunted by Jezebel, exhausted by his prayer, Elijah falls asleep under the broom tree. An angel comes to him twice with food and drink, ordering him to wake up and eat: “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” Elijah obeys. Strengthened by the angelic supper, he walks for forty days and nights; he walks to God on Mt. Horeb. The Lord provides. Jesus reminds the Jews who are murmuring about his teaching that their ancestors wandered around in the desert for forty years, surviving on angelic food. Though they died as we all do, and despite their constant despairing, they survived as a people to arrive in the land promised to them by God. As always, the Lord provides. Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that Christ handed himself over “as a sacrificial offering to God” for us, thus giving us access to the Father's bounty, eternal access to only food and drink we will ever need to survive. Paul writes, “. . .you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Therefore, “. . .be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” We always have before us the feast of mercy. The Lord provides. So, wake up! And eat! 

What are we promised, and what is provided? Even the slightest glance at scripture, even the most cursory perusal of our Christian history will reveal that following Christ on pilgrimage to the cross is no picnic. To paraphrase Lynn Anderson, “He never promised us a rose garden.” Sure, Christ promised us a garden alright. But it's the Garden of Gethsemane. Betrayal, blood, and a sacrificial death. He also promised us persecution, trial, conviction, and exile. He promised us nothing more than what he himself received as the Messiah. A life of hardship as a witness and the authority of the Word. The burdens of preaching mercy and the rewards of telling the truth. An ignoble death on a cross and a glorious resurrection from the tomb. What he promises, he provides. All that he provides is given from His Father's treasury. Food and drink on the way. The peace of reconciliation. A Father's love for His children. And an eternal life lived in worship before the throne. 

All of this is given freely to us. But we must freely receive all that is given. Elijah flees into the desert, seeking his freedom from Jezebel's wrath. The former slaves of Egypt flee into the desert, seeking their freedom from Pharaoh's whip. The men and women of Ephesus flee into the desert of repentance and conversion, seeking their freedom from the slavery of sin. Each time we flee into a desert to despair, we are fleeing from the worries, the burdens of living day-to-day the promises we have made to follow Christ to the cross. Our lives are not made easier by baptism and the Eucharist. Our anxieties are not made simpler through prayer and fasting. Our pains, our sufferings are not relieved by the saints or the Blessed Mother. Our lives, anxieties, our pain and sufferings are made sacrificial by the promises of Christ and all that he provides. We are not made less human by striving to be Christ-like. We are not brought to physical and psychological bliss by walking the way of sorrows. We are not promised lives free of betrayal, blood, injury, and death. By striving to be Christ-like, by walking behind our Lord on the way of sorrows, we are all but guaranteeing that we will suffer for his sake. And so, the most fervent prayer we can pray along this Christian path is: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life. . .!” Surrender and receive, give up and feast. Surrender your life and receive God's blessing. Give up your suffering and feast on the bread of heaven. 

What Christ promises, he provides. He says to those behind him, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Exhausted under a tree and running for your life; pitiful and despairing, wandering lost in a desert; chained to sin, wallowing in disobedience, yet seeking mercy. . .where do you find yourself? Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you exhausted? Spent? Do you need to be rescued? Cry out then, “Take my life, O Lord. . .” Pray for death. Pray for the death of Self. Pray for the death of “bitterness, fury, anger, reviling, and malice.” Pray for the death of whatever it is in you that obstructs your path to Christ; pray that it “be removed from you. . .So [you may] be [an] imitator of God, as [a] beloved child[], and live in love, as Christ loves us.” Remember and never forget: “When the afflicted call out, the Lord hears, and from all their distress He saves them! Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!” The bread come down from heaven, Christ himself, is our promised food and our provision for eternal life.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

10 August 2018

Go Big, or Go Home

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

My father and grandfather decided that our family of six needed tomatoes. So, we planted 100 seedlings. They decided that we needed some purple-hull peas. So, we planted three acres of peas. We needed watermelons. Sixty or so we planted. And so on with corn, butter beans, okra, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash. You name it and we had metric tons of it. . .for six of us. We sowed generously and reaped bountifully! My father and grandfather insisted that we weren't going overboard. They insisted that all this planting and weeding and watering and harvesting was absolutely necessary. However, when I went off to college and my younger brother got married – that is, when the unpaid labor got scarce – the gardens and orchards disappeared. Apparently, my brother and I were eating enough homegrown vegetables to feed Grant's Army! Of course, I'm grateful for the time spent bent over a garden hoe. Every preacher needs a story for his homilies. For years, when I was a teenager, my family sowed generously and reaped bountifully! I saw firsthand that nothing grows without a seed being planted. And that seed must die.

Martyrs bear witness to the faith. They plant the seed of truth in the hearts and minds of those to whom they witness. Their deaths for the faith spark that seed. Their blood giving it life and nutrition. But not all martyrs die bloody deaths. The ones we celebrate as saints in the Church did – like St. Lawrence. The vast majority of martyrs – like you and me – probably won't die for the faith even when we die in the faith. Our witness, our martyrdom will be less grand, more ordinary. We seeds of witness we sow are the ordinary seeds of everyday acts of mercy and love. Small handfuls of forgiveness, comfort, kindness. Even tiny little moments of fraternal correction or refusing to deny the truth. Standing up for the faith when doing so imperils friendships or our jobs. Risking social embarrassment or our popularity in the neighborhood. God will take the smallest witness and grow it into a harvest of faith. Think about how you will bear witness out there today. What will you say or do that plants a seed, a seed that could grow into a disciple of Christ? Die to yourself in humility and receive the courage of heart to speak the name of Jesus. Die to yourself in humility and be Christ for another.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

08 August 2018

How great is your faith?

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

The Lord guides Israel's people out of their Assyrian exile. He leads them back to Jerusalem, saying, “I will be the God of all the tribes of Israel, and they shall be my people.” When all are settled, the Lord appears to Israel and reassures them, “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt. . .” Despite Israel's faithlessness to the Covenant, the Lord keeps His promise. In His great love, He shows mercy. And His mercy brings restoration. The Good News is that God's love and mercy are not limited to the people of Israel. We Gentiles have a Covenant with God too. A Covenant that we too often forget and fail. When the Canaanite woman begs Christ to exorcise her possessed daughter, the Lord says to her, in effect, “I'm not here for you Gentiles. I'm here for the Jews.” The woman replies, in effect, “Even Gentiles get the leftovers from the Jewish table!” Christ, possibly glancing wryly at his disciples to see if they are paying attention, answers her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed.

In these difficult times, Christ could ask his Church, “How great is your faith?” If we were being honest, we might say, “Not so great, actually.” Or perhaps, “Our faith is being tested, Lord.” He might ask us to look carefully at how faithful we are to the Covenant he died to establish. He might ask us to look at how well we love, how well we forgive, how well we find hope in this mess. He might even suggest to us that as a gift from the Father our faith is not the sort of thing we can measure. Faith is received and put to good use, or it is ignored and left to shrivel up. So, maybe the better question for us is: “Have you received the faith our Father freely offers and put it to good use?” If not, why not? Israel was unfaithful to the Covenant established by Abraham. And the Lord allowed the Assyrian Empire to scatter His people all over the region in exile. When they were allowed to return to Jerusalem, the Lord said to them, “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt. . .” So, after suffering the consequences of their sin, Israel is restored and rebuilt. Please notice that the Lord never stopped loving Israel. Allowing Israel to be scattered, to experience the consequences of their unfaithfulness is what brings them back home. In His mercy, the Lord brings them home. 
How great is your faith? How well do you forgive, show mercy, live in hope? Not so great? Better than you'd expect? Maybe: needs improvement? However you answer these questions – your faith heals you. Your trust in God's promises heals you. You are freed from your sins using the same measure you use to free others from theirs. And remember the Lord's words to Israel as they return from their exile: “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you,  and you shall be rebuilt. . .”

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

07 August 2018

Stay and Fight!

I've received some kind emails and blog comments, wondering if I am struggling with the current scandals and the general tumult in the Church. They point out -- rightly -- that my last three homilies have been focused on staying strong in the faith while the Church seems to Circle the Bowl. The preacher preaches to himself first. Indeed.

Yes, I am struggling.

No, I'm not on the brink of cracking up! :-)

In 1995 I left the Episcopal Church b/c I realized that the fundamental doctrine of TEC was up for grabs every three years at the Convention. In the 20 years before I was baptized in the TEC (1982), TEC moved from using the triennial Convention to tinker with canon law to altering Tradition. The weird thing is: I was one of the ones pushing the more radical reforms -- women's ordination to the episcopate, LGBTXYZ inclusion, etc. 

What broke my resolve was the move to further revise the Book of Common Prayer.  There was talk of revising the Nicene Creed and Scripture!

I saw the Whole Thing becoming little more than a bunch of humanities professors playing Church Dress-Up. 

So, I did what any Good Protestant would do -- I left and joined another church.

There's much, much more to the story here, including my grad school training in Marxist/feminist critical theory and deconstructionism, but that's all background. 

I didn't come to any real understanding of the Catholic faith until after my first year in the Dominican studium (2002). And I am still discovering elements of the faith that I've never heard of. 

The sexual abuse scandals of 2002 and the current scandals are aberrations; that is, nothing about them is in concert with the faith. Nothing about the faith justifies Catholic clergy violating their promises/vows. Nothing about the faith prompts bishops to commit or cover-up abuses. Nothing. 

My worry is that faithful lay Catholics will decide that their faith is no longer viable b/c some in the clergy have failed miserably in living out their vocations. 

My other worry is that radical elements in the Church will use the scandals and the Holy Father's change in the CCC to alter the faith according their to destructive agenda, e.g., ending mandatory celibacy, electing bishops, women's ordination, etc.

If the scandals have nothing to do with the faith, then altering the faith is not going to address the scandals. Leaving the Church is not going to address the scandals.

The current tumult is challenging Catholics to be more powerfully Catholic. The temptation of American Catholics is to act like Protestants -- just leave and find another church (as if all churches are equally valid). 

I urge us all to stay the course and fight for the Church! We must avoid a self-destructive Witchhunt, but we must also dig down and find the courage to confront abusers and exercise some much needed fraternal correction (Matt 18.15-17).

Pray for our good priests and bishops. Pray for me.

Frat., Fr. Philip Neri, OP

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

05 August 2018

What crisis? What scandal??

18th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The Church is in a hard place right now. The media use the word “crisis” too easily – mostly to sell ads – but I don't think it's an exaggeration to describe where we are as critical. We've been here before. In 2002, in 1968, during WWII, in 1870, 1798, during the French Revolution and the Kaiser's Kulturekampf, all the way back to the 400 year long Arian heresy that started in third century of the Church. That we have been here before and survived should be a comfort to us. But somehow it isn't. Reading about a crisis and living through it are two radically different experiences. So, what do we do? As always, our Lord Jesus Christ shows us the way. The crowd finds Jesus “across the sea,” and asks him an innocent question: “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus hears and answers a different question, saying, “. . .you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. . .” Jesus is telling them – and us – to keep our hearts and minds stubbornly focused on his promise of eternal life. That's the food that will keep us fed through any crisis we must endure.

Now, if you are wondering what in the world I'm talking about – what crisis? What scandal? – I'd urge you to spend some time reading about Theodore McCarrick, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC. About the major seminary in Honduras. About the diocese of Lincoln, NE. I won't explain these now. Let it be enough to say: the sins of the Fathers are coming to light. . .again. And it ain't pretty. In addition to all this, a few days ago the Holy Father “adjusted” the Catechism's teaching on the morality of the death penalty. Whether this is just development of doctrine or a worrisome departure from tradition is a hotly debated question. As a Big Mouth Dominican Friar I'm ashamed to say that I can't answer that question just yet. My initial reaction to the adjustment was less than thoughtful. So, I've decided to just shut up and think on it some more. If you are aware of these issues then you are also aware that the Church is in critical condition; that is, we are at a point in our history where everything can change. And everything can change. Except one thing: God's promise of eternal life. Jesus reassures us: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

And that's where our attention needs to be – believing in our Lord Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life. I'm not saying we ignore the crisis. I'm saying that how we pay attention to the crisis and work to resolve it must be done with the heart and mind of Christ firmly in place. Like everything else of this world, this crisis tempts us to fall into the sin of despair; into self-righteous anger; calls for vengeance; and the sin I call Do-Somethingism – do-somethingism is the sin of rushing past our rational faculties “to do something” about a problem, to do something, anything!, to address what we believe to be the cause of our troubles. More often than not the solution we hastily put in place only causes more problems.* When we put on the heart and mind of Christ we see that sin is real. Human failure is real. And we also see that the Father's mercy is greater than any human failure. And do not forget: divine mercy does not preclude the possibility of human justice. Nor does it prevent the Church from making the changes necessary to prevent similar crises in the future. 

The bottomline here is this (and I'm saying this to myself as well as to you): Do not allow this crisis to undermine your faith! Your faith is deeply rooted in Christ Jesus. . .not a pope, not a cardinal or a bishop or a priest. We are the Body of Christ and him crucified. . .he suffered, died, and rose from the grave to sit at the Father's right hand. And so will we!

*For example, the Dallas Charter the USCCB put in place to address sexual abuse among deacons and priests. It does not include bishops. The way the Charter has been used by some bishops has driven a wedge btw the bishops and their priests, destroying trust and reputations. Not good. 

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

29 July 2018

Are you living a life worthy of your call?

17th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

We need to hear this again – Paul writing to the church in Ephesus: “I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received. . .” Notice what Paul doesn't say. He doesn't say “live in a manner worthy of your pastors or your bishops or your cardinals.” He doesn't say “live in a manner worthy of your political leaders or your favorite movie star or pop-singer.” He says, “. . .live in a manner worthy of the call you have received. . .” What is this call? The call you have received? You – all of us – have received a call to holiness. To be set apart for a sacred task. The chalice we use for Mass cannot be used to serve beer at the parish fish fry. The altar cannot be used as a table for breakfast. These vestments cannot be used as a child's Halloween costume. The chalice, the altar, these vestments have been made holy, set aside for a sacred purpose. And so have you. You have been set aside to accomplish the work of Christ in the world. To multiply his love and mercy among those starving to be brought back to God the Father. Therefore, “. . .live in a manner worthy of the call you have received. . .” Feed the 5,000 right where you are.

The 5,000 gathered around Christ and his disciples are literally hungry. Stomach-growling hungry. He takes “five barley loaves and two fish” and feeds every man, woman, and child there. Make no mistake: this isn't a story about Jesus shaming the crowd into sharing the lunches they were keeping to themselves. This is a miracle. Christ's blessing on the bread and fish – his setting aside of this food for the crowd – gave the bread and fish a sacred purpose, a holy end. We see the Eucharist in this meal. We see the multiplication of disciples in this meal. We see that even the leftovers gathered up and saved. How is this miracle accomplished? John tells us, “Jesus took the loaves [and] gave thanks. . .” He gives thanks. Christ acknowledges the source of the bread and fish. He acknowledges his Father and offers Him gratitude for providing them all with food. That seemingly small gesture, just that tiny prayer of thanksgiving multiplied what little they had into all that they needed and more. When all those people finished eating, what did they do? Did they go home and forget about the miracle they had just witnessed? No! John says, “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, 'This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.'” Jesus had to run for the hills b/c they wanted to make him a king.

Once Jesus got away from them, I imagine most in the crowd went home and told friends and neighbors about the miracle he performed. They bore witness to the signs he showed them. They fed those hungry for news about the coming of the Messiah. They performed their own signs and wonders by sharing the Good News that the Christ had come into the world. They found a way to live in a manner worthy of the call they had received. They fed the 5,000 right where they were. Even if the 5,000 only added up to a dozen or two. So, how do we live in a manner worthy of the call we have received? We don't do it staying quiet. Or by making our faith a purely private matter. Or by pretending that we are living worthily by occasionally showing up for Mass. We are all called to holiness. To be set apart for a sacred purpose, and that sacred purpose is to bear witness to the mercy of God to the world. To be living, breathing icons of Christ to those starving for a relationship with God the Father. When the 5,000 had eaten, Jesus says, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” Leave nothing and no one behind when you bear witness. They too have a call to live worthily.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->