23 September 2023

There is no Christ w/o the Cross

Padre Pio

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Can you and I become Christs w/o the Cross? No. Emphatically, no. What it is to be the Christ (a Christ) is to be crucified. Christ and Cross are bound together historically, theologically, psychologically, and (big theology word alert!) eschatologically; that is, according to the logic of Christ's return in glory at the end of the age. Over the centuries, many have preached Christ w/o the Cross, attempting to extract what they like about the faith and exclude what they don't. These efforts turned the Catholic faith into a circus of ethical philosophies, or political systems, or therapeutic programs. All of these have failed, are failing, and will fail b/c the good of Christ is inextricably bound to the sacrifice of the Cross. How do we know this? Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He does not say, “Whoever wishes to come after me must exalt himself, blame others for his sufferings, and do his own thing.” Following Christ has never been and cannot be about settling into the world as a comfortable cog. Following Christ is about being a faithful servant, a hopeful irritant.

What the world needs us to be is poorly paid actors, mouthing a script. Shout this slogan for our politician. Process this procedure according to this policy. Buy this stuff with this currency. Make this product your idol. This celebrity your god. Kill these people. Dance. Line up. March. The world thrives on power, believing itself divine and rebelling against God. Anyone who denies self cannot be a full-time consumer. Anyone who picks up a cross cannot be self-absorbed. Anyone who follows Christ cannot be an obedient actor in the world's comedy. Anyone who does what Christ commands is an irritant b/c the world knows that Christ is King. But it will not kneel. Our mission is to live in the world and show that kneeling to Christ, becoming Christs for others, is the way to freedom and joy. We don't conquer the world by fighting the world. We can't win on any battlefield against guns and bombs. Our fight is at once larger and smaller. Larger b/c we are in a spiritual battle. Smaller b/c the battle is internal. The cosmic war of Good vs. Evil is a Manichean myth. We are not pawns in a black and white chess game played by warring deities. Rather, each one of us is in a match played against the self. This is why Paul must say, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” If you and I can say the same, then we are only competing with ourselves for the prize of becoming Christ on the Cross.       

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18 September 2023

Prayer is dangerous

24th Week OT (M)

Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving

Prayer is a dangerous habit. Some might add that it is superstitious or magical, or risky but worth it. Prayer is intimacy with God. Any moment where you find yourself intimately holding the will of our Father in your body and soul, you are praying. You may petition, give thanks and praise, intercede for someone. You may adore God. And, if you are so inclined, you may contemplate the divine in a life of study in order to share the fruits of your contemplation with others. Regardless of your technique or goal, Paul makes it absolutely clear to Timothy that God expects us to pray. I repeat: prayer is dangerous…not only because you sometimes get you pray for, but because the first fruits of all prayer accrue to the Pray-er, the one praying. Prayer is dangerous because it is divinely designed to change substantially those who take it up as a habit.

So, you’ve decided to live a life of prayer. What can you expect as an eager Pray-er? In no particular order, you can expect most of the following: an overarching sense of peace and joy; a lot of turmoil and struggle day-to-day; a slow growth toward obedience and charity; an occasional tumble with angels and devils alike; long periods of spiritual productivity and emotional health; longer, darker periods of spiritual aridity and roller-coaster passions; the overwhelming presence of the Triune God; and His apparent absence. In other words, as a creature who chooses to obey God and to pray habitually, you will find yourself becoming more intensely a creature, more fully human as you work out your perfection in His grace. And it is vital that you understand that in prayer your goal is to become fully human, perfectly human as Christ is perfectly human. You will fail if you think your goal is to become an angel. Prayer does many wonderful things for us. It will not, however, help you switch species. Therefore, let God worry about making you divine in His own time.

Our centurion this morning is the perfect pray-er. What does he do? First, he is praying, petitioning for someone else, an act of charity. Second, he involves the entire community in his prayer. He asks the Jewish elders to petition Jesus for help. Next, the Jewish elders acknowledge the centurion’s largesse to their nation and persuade Jesus to do as the soldier asks. Jesus agrees. However, the centurion meets them half-way and then humbly confesses that as a pagan he is not worthy of having Jesus in his house. And then he confesses, again with humility, that he knows that Jesus has the authority to heal his slave with a word. Jesus is amazed. The slave is healed. And prayer is once again shown to be a very dangerous practice.

When the centurion confesses his absolute trust in Jesus’ power, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” How is this dangerous? Jesus has just publicly admitted that a pagan, a man with no filial connection to the God of Israel is a man of faith. And it is through trusting prayer – not nationality, racial heritage, family affiliation, nor religious creed – but through faith that the centurion’s prayer succeeds. It is through trust in Christ and trust in Christ alone. In Gaudium et spes, we read that Christians will die and rise again with Christ and that his promise carries us in hope. For non-Christians, they continue: “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery”(n 22). Thus, the possibility of becoming Christ through Christ in prayer. Given his end, is there anything more dangerous than that?

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29 August 2023

Folly Thy Name is Pride

Passion of JTB

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great, Irving

Like any one of us who fall into sin, Herod's devolution into foolishness starts with pride. Salome the Dancer, and her mother, Herodias, take advantage of Herod's pride and lust and turn his generosity into murder. They succeed because Herod is ruled by anxiety and fear. Why else does a powerful king keep a holy and righteous man in prison? Fear makes us foolish, and foolishness is and always will be the enemy of God's wisdom. 

John persists in preaching against Herod's adultery. The king imprisons John, keeping him close but also preventing him from preaching against Herod publicly. We can almost hear Herod's internal conflict. God's wisdom and the king's conscience draw Herod to John's preaching, but power, lust, and misplaced generosity prevent him from choosing wisdom over foolishness. Having consistently chosen to accomplish apparently good ends by evil means, Herod reaches a point where Salome and Herodias tip the scale and the king murders John, becoming, in this deadly choice, a Royal Fool. 

Herod's fall into darkness shows us that fools are made not born. In fact, fools are self-made, constructed, if you will, out of pride, and played by men and women who once listened to wisdom. If Herod's power and pride started his decline, then fear accelerated it, and lust and hard-heartedness sealed the deal. Like all of our moral choices, vice is a habit: we choose again and again to call evil Good. Over time, we are no longer capable of recognizing the Good and come to believe that in choosing Evil we are choosing Good. Herod believes that keeping John in prison prevents political unrest. Even though he is distressed by Salome's request for John's head on a platter, Herod justifies the prophet's execution as an act of fidelity to his oath, fearing embarrassment if he breaks it. The king is motivated at every decision-point by vicious habits and these habits take him—step by step—right into moral foolishness.

Hearing, seeing, and doing God's wisdom are all habits: choices and actions we must take one at a time, step by step. Each decision we make brings us closer to foolishness or closer to wisdom. If living in God's wisdom is your goal, then let your prayer be: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 

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Don't make Jesus say, "Woe to you!"

St. Augustine

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

It's never a bad idea to compare ourselves to the Pharisees. Spiritually speaking, how do we measure up? Jesus consistently points out their hypocrisies and ties their spiritual failures to a near-pathological need for control. IOW, they love to control others, but seem unable to control themselves. That they can't/won't control themselves partially explains why they want to control others. If I can't/won't control myself, the least I can do is try and control you. Do we, do you have the same problem? Have you ever been upset with someone for committing the same sin you regularly commit? Do you moralize about sin to others while rationalizing your own sin to yourself? Maybe you've granted yourself a dispensation from a moral precept but refused the same to another? Perhaps you regularly receive mercy but rarely give it? The basic idea here is that I can come to expect others to be tightly bound to the rules while I am allowed a great deal of flexibility in following the same. Any sin I commit is ultimately explicable, justifiable, and forgivable, while you – you dirty sinner! – have no excuse! Obviously, this is no way for a follower of Christ to live.

How ought we to live then given our weaknesses and the law of love? One way comes in the form of a practice: anytime I am tempted to condemn a fellow sinner, I will stop myself and perform a quick examination of conscience. What is motivating me to speak out here? Am I trying to control another b/c I can't/won't control myself? Am I trying to show all the others how holy I am? Am I hoping to distance myself from that sinner's sin b/c that sin is also my sin? Am I being moved by charity or fear? Hope or anger? Do I hate the sin but not the sinner? Or, do I hate the sin B/C I hate the sinner? Or, do I just hate the sinner regardless of the sin? Hopefully, by the time I've completed this examen, it's too late to say or do anything dumb, and I've avoided yet another temptation to hypocrisy. I've avoided another temptation to appoint myself Judge of the Law. When you commit a sin, you go to Christ for forgiveness. You know in your heart and mind that you are contrite and repentant. If you want to escape hypocrisy, presume grace in the other and firmly believe that they to are looking for mercy. Otherwise, as Jesus says, “Woe to you!”

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27 August 2023

You gotta meet him!

21st Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. But does he know what this means? Do we? It took the Church about 400 years after the resurrection to settle on the answer and even then we struggled over the details over centuries. And we're still struggling. Why it took us so long and why we're still perfecting our answer would take a couple of years of daily classes to explain. The Cliff Notes version is this: who and what Christ is for us is a revelation. Who and what he is for us cannot be discovered by argument, experiment, or a proclamation from Rome. I mean, we can write the sentence – “Jesus is the Christ” – w/o divine intervention. We can say the sentence out loud. We can compose songs, poems, stage plays, and novels with that sentence as our thesis. We can even say we believe it's true and live our lives accordingly. But we cannot KNOW that Jesus is the Christ and know him as a person w/o meeting him in the flesh. 2,000 years after his bodily ascension into heaven – that takes a lot of divine assistance! So, how do we – poor limited creatures that we are – meet our Savior in the flesh? How do we even start?

Here's an analogy. I'm a young man in my mid-20's. I'm ready to get married. My parents say they know the perfect woman for me. They show me pictures. I google her and discover reams of info about her education, work history, hobbies, and favorite foods. I read her autobiography and talk to her on the phone. We have several Zoom meetings. We exchange letters. (Her grammar, spelling, and punctuation are perfect, btw!) I know just about everything there is to know about her. I propose a wedding date and a venue for the honeymoon. In my head, we're already married and living happily ever after. My parents, however, say we need one more little thing to seal the deal. We need to meet in person. In my zeal to just get on with it, I say, “Naw. I'm in love! I know everything I need to know!” Being a seasoned married couple, they insist, saying, “You know about her. You don't know her.” I agree and ask her on a date. She says yes. But. . .on the fateful day and hour, she's a no-show. I never hear from her again. Turns out – “she” was an A.I. chat bot, a computer program designed to make me think she was real. Moral of the analogy: you can know everything about a person and never know the person.

To know a person you must meet him/her person face-to-face. Even and especially if that person is Christ. How do we – poor limited creatures that we are – meet our Savior in the flesh? Jesus knew he would be with us always. He says so several times. He also knew that he would ascend to the Father. He says that too. So, how can he be with us always and with the Father at the same time? Thanks be to God, he made some arrangements before he left. He left us the apostles. Personal witnesses to his life. He left us a Church, his body, his hands and feet here on earth. He sent us his Holy Spirit, the soul of his body, the Church. He left us a vicar, a steward with the keys to the Kingdom. Even with all of these essential elements left for us so that we might know about him. . .how do we meet him? He left us two additional elements that bring him as close to us as our own souls – one another and the Eucharist. If you will meet Christ face-to-face, meet him in your neighbor; your spouse and children; your co-workers; even your enemies. The Christ you meet there will be imperfect. On the way to perfection. But the Christ they meet in you will be imperfect too. In a different way but nonetheless on the way to perfection. Your imperfections and theirs will bring you both closer to his perfection.

Granted, meeting Christ in another isn't perfect. But it is a meeting. It is a face-to-face encounter that brings us closer to him. In the Eucharist, we meet him body, blood, soul, and divinity. We meet him as he is and know him as sacrificial love. By taking in his body and blood, we become more and more like him, taking on his mission and ministry, taking on everything he is for us. And becoming Christs for others. The Eucharist is a revelation. It's rational, but it cannot be understood through reason alone. It's a personal experience, but it cannot be understood through personal experience alone. We can know the theology, the philosophy, the psychology, and history of the Eucharist and still not know him who is the Eucharist. Who the Eucharist is for us must be revealed, unveiled and shown. Jesus says to Peter, “...flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” If you will know Christ, meet him face-to-face, sit still and ask the Father to give you Peter's revelation. Ask Him to show you Christ. He is always here to be revealed. To be met in person. Ask and you will receive. 

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26 August 2023

Father (doesn't) always know best

20th Week OT (S)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

While serving as a priest-formator at NDS in NOLA, I had many opportunities to talk to seminarians about the dangers of clericalism. It was The Topic after the Cardinal McCarrick scandal broke in 2019. Power, authority, influence, money, and people were grievously abused for the jollies of one man. That this man was aided and abetted by dozens of other clerics (from cardinals to deacons) over several decades reveals the ugly, infectious nature of sin. The sin reigning at the rotten center of this scandal was Pride, “I am a god.” Surely, greed, lust, envy all played their part. But Pride gave them their marching orders. Talking to the seminarians, the formators spent a lot of time defining clericalism for them. It boils down to this: clergy are better than the laity. How clericalism manifests differs from age to age, but the basics never change: “I am a priest/bishop (etc) and b/c I am the priest/bishop I am always right.” Therefore, the cleric's will is the single, stable measure of what counts as true, good, and beautiful in any situation. To make matters worse, clericalism is almost always nurtured by some portion of the laity who say, “Father knows best.” Jesus says, The greatest among you must be your servant.”

Humility is no easy virtue. It requires the death of Pride, the submission of one's will to the Father. At minimum, it means confessing one's total dependence on God alone and then living a life of gratitude for His abundant gifts. It means refusing the serpent's temptation to Eve: “You can be a god w/o God.” Practically, for the cleric, it means never confusing legitimate authority with naked power. Righteousness with popularity. Truth with personal preference. For all of us, humility is about knowing and deeply understanding that we are – at our very root – unnecessary creatures. Made beings brought to perfection in the loving sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Our creation is a gift. Our re-creation is also a gift. Everything we have and are is a gift. When we serve one another, we are gifts serving other gifts for the glory of God. When we serve for self-satisfaction, to puff up our ego, we serve another Master entirely. His name is Pride. So, Jesus warns us, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 

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15 August 2023

Martyr of Charity

St. Maximilian Kolbe

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Whoever does not love remains in death. That's a weighty sentence at 8am on a Monday. But the truth is not limited by clock or calendar. The truth sets us free. And the truth is: if I do not love, I am dead. I may be up and waddling around; talking, doing my laundry, saying Mass, but I am w/o Life. Outside the Way. Knowing that love frees, that love saves, I have a choice: love or don't. If I receive the gift of Divine Love and choose to love in turn, then I live and walk the Way. If, however, I receive the gift of Divine Love and choose not to love, then I live a waking death. A life w/o God. A choice He will honor even after soul and body separate. John tells us that we come to know love b/c Love Himself laid down his life for us. He showed us how to love sacrificially by dying on the Cross for the salvation of the world. If we will love and follow him, that's our path. Like I said, weighty stuff for a Monday at 8am. But not as weighty as the sacrifice we celebrate this morning. We all know the martyr's story of Friar Maximilian Kolbe. He volunteered to take the place of a prisoner in Auschwitz who'd been sentenced to starve to death. With nine others, Kolbe was interred in an underground bunker. After two weeks with no water or food, the Nazis injected the four surviving prisoners with carbolic acid, including Kolbe. JPII canonized him in 1982, declaring him a “martyr of charity.” As horrific as his death was, it was a sacrifice of love. The man he saved was a husband and father. That man survived the Holocaust and attended Kolbe's canonization. As a martyr of charity, Kolbe bears witness to what it is to walk the Way of Christ, to live for the truth in love. There is almost no chance at all that anyone here this morning will be called upon to bear witness to the faith in a similar manner. But Kolbe's sacrifice shows us the limitless edge of sacrificial love. Whatever we do in love today will not match the historical drama of Kolbe's sacrifice. It will pale in comparison. Fortunately, we are called upon to compete with the martyrs. We are called upon to bear witness where and when we are in a way that gives God glory and demonstrates to the world that loving is living a life in Christ. Whoever does not love remains in death. That's our testimony. Love, therefore, not in word or speech but in deed and truth.

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13 August 2023

Where's the doubt?

19th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Albert the Great, Irving

Peter is having a hard week. Our Lord has called him “Satan” and described him as an obstacle. Then there's the whole failed exorcism episode where the disciples' faith is too weak to drive out a demon. Today, Peter nearly falls into the sea b/c his faith is too small. Pulling him back from the drink, Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?” Peter doesn't answer, so we're left with the accusing question. Is it fair to accuse him of being a doubter? Keep in mind: it's Peter who, seeing Jesus walking on the sea, yells out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Yes, there's some doubt in there – “if it is you” – but it still takes some pretty solid faith and courage to test Jesus' power with one's own life. Peter had no way of knowing whether or not the “ghost” he was seeing was really the Lord. Of course, the accusation of doubt against Peter comes only after he's on the water and the sea becomes rough. Fearing for his life, Peter yells out, “Lord, save me!” Where's the doubt? Even knowing that he is looking at the Lord, Peter thinks that he has to ask Jesus to save him. As if Jesus had not already done so.

Digging deeper into Peter's doubt, we can ask: what is Peter doubting? If we take doubt to mean something like “a failure to trust” or “a hesitancy to believe,” then there has to be someone we are failing to trust or believe. Our gospel scene strongly suggests that Peter's near demise in the rough sea is caused by his lack of trust in Jesus; he hesitates for just a second to believe in Jesus' love for him. Is this the failure that nearly kills him? If so, then why does he immediately cry out, “Lord, save me!” Why cry out for help to the very person whose power you are doubting? In other words, if Peter is doubting Jesus, why turn to him for rescue? Yelling out for Christ's help when in peril seems to be an exemplary expression of faith in Christ. So, again, who is Peter doubting? Consider this: Jesus has called Peter “Satan;” described him as an obstacle; and rebuked him for his small faith. Despite all of these indications that the Lord is somehow displeased with Peter, Jesus establishes his Church on Peter and gives him the keys to the kingdom. Is it possible that Peter is experiencing just a little confusion about who he himself is? Maybe Peter – in a moment of panic – fails to trust in the faith he has been given. Peter doubts his own strength in Christ.

Think about your own relationship with God. There have been times when you doubted. Doubt creeps in a like a noxious fog no matter how tight you think you are with God. Think about that doubt and ask: was I really thinking that Love Himself stopped loving me personally? Or was I really worried about the strength of my own love for Him? See, God is Love, so His love for us is a universal given. He loves us b/c Love is Who He is. And though we are made to love Him, we are also made with a built-in free will that is subject to sin. When doubt wiggles its way into our relationship with God, more often than not we can trace that doubt back to a lack of confidence in our own “small faith,” back to our own anxiety about whether or not we are truly in love with God. When the sea gets rough and Peter panics, he does what any one of us here would do: he calls on Jesus for help! That call, that cry for rescue isn't a sign that Peter doubts Christ's power to rescue him; it's a sign that he needs a stronger sense of himself as a man already rescued. How strong is your sense of yourself as a man or woman already rescued by the power of Christ?

God knows we are limited creatures. Prone to making mistakes and even intentionally doing evil things. Part of being limited is needing to be reminded over and over again that we are loved by Love Himself. We forget that w/o His love we cannot exist. Literally, God's love is what holds us in being. At those moments when we forget that His love holds us in being, we also tend to forget that we experience His love for us as caring attention. He supplies all that we need. That we think we need all sort of things that we don't really need and never receive is not His problem. Strip away greedy wanting and all need is exactly what God provides – His love. So, when we forget that He loves us, when we forget that we live, move, and have our being in His love, our confidence fails and doubt runs wild and free. Left unchecked, doubt will play and play and play until a moment's lapse in faith becomes a lifetime of anxiety and despair. Doubts needs a soul that forgets that it is loved, rescued, and freed from sin and death.

Do you know that you have already been rescued from the storm of sin and death? Do you know that whatever disaster strikes, whatever fear grips you in a moment, that God loves you and will provide for you? He might not provide what you think you need or want, but He will provide all that you need to return His love. If your confidence fails, do what Peter did and cry out: “Lord, save me!” That's enough to remind you that you are already saved in Christ. It's just enough to strengthen your heart, to slay the doubt, and return you to knowing again the love that God always gives. Remember what Elijah discovers about the Lord – He's not in the tornado, the earthquake, or the fire. He's in the small, still voice, a voice that forever whispers, “Take courage, it is I; I am with you always.” 

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08 August 2023

St. Dominic: there's no looking back!

St. Dominic

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

There's no looking back. Let the dead bury the dead. If you will put your hand to the plow, and keep your hand on the plow 'til the job's done – there's no looking back. Once Jesus says to you, “Follow me,” and you say, “I will follow you,” the only way forward is forward. Whether the soil is sand, rock, or rich black loam – the only way forward is behind Christ, following along; doing what he does; speaking his words; teaching, preaching, healing, feeding, freeing; and being taught, being preached to; being healed, fed, and freed. Paul confesses to the Corinthians that he doesn't preach to them with sublime words or out of sublime wisdom. His preaching is “a demonstration of spirit and power.” He doesn't preach from merely human strength or courage. Nor with a self-assured ease. But from “weakness and fear and much trembling.” Paul's not fearful of how the world will react to the Gospel, or what the world will do to him for preaching it. He's fearful knowing that the Lord will use his trembling weakness to do great things for the Kingdom. So, he is “resolved to know nothing...except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Knowing this – and just this – there is no looking back.

But what is it for a preacher to look back? The temptation to look back could arise from a disordered sense of nostalgia. My life was better back then. . .before Christ, before I said Yes. Looking back could be prompted by intellectual pride. Preaching isn't real intellectual work. It's just exhortation for the crowd. Rabble-rousing for Jesus. Looking back could be about emotional and physical comfort, or a need to be the center of attention, or an inordinate passion for good rhetoric and literary style. The preacher can be tempted to pull Christ off the Cross and take his place. Or to turn the Gospel into a vehicle for his eccentric theology and personal agenda. When the field to be plowed seems to grow and grow and the ground gets rockier and rockier, the preacher will be tempted to loosen the yoke a bit and just glide softly over the topsoil. Better not uproot the bigger stones. That just makes more work for later. Leave them be. Let them be stones for someone else. Probably the strongest temptation to look back comes when the only answers available are Yes and No. Do or do not. Choose life or choose death. The wisdom of the world loves its ambiguity, its waffling and compromise. The preacher puts his hand to the plow. The only way forward is forward, following Christ.

The great Dominican preachers of the Church – Humbert, Jordan, Albert and Thomas, Eckhart, Catherine, Martin, Lacordaire, of course, Dominic himself – did not look back to “a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.” Why? B/c that sort of wisdom is merely created. It's the lived experience of creatures. Temporary creatures. Limited and passing away. They preached God's wisdom. Revealed in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus. The lived experience of the Incarnate Son. And him crucified. Their assigned ground had its share of stones. They tightened the yoke, dug deep, and never looked back. Christ sustained them in their Yes. He plowed in front of and beside them. So long as they gave their voices to his Word, he was with them. And when they didn't, he lent them his own. If you will be a preacher of the Gospel, practice now never looking back. There's nothing there to make the work lighter, to make the ground softer. Ahead is truth and love. Plow on. Prepare the field. And let the dead bury the dead.

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30 July 2023



I haven't posted in a while. With the end of the semester, priory duties, home visit, etc. . .it's been crazier than usual. 

I am giving the Pre-novitiate Vestition Retreat this week and next weekend is Simple Profession and then Vestition. 

Things get to be "normal" around Aug 7th. 

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Worry is how we worship Self

Ss. Martha, Mary, & Lazarus

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
Holy Family of Nazareth Center

The Enemy wants you worried. He wants you anxious. Why? If he can convince you that your worrying actually changes things in the real world, then he can keep you focused on trying to be God. While you're trying to be God – changing the world with your magical worry – you will fail to recognize that you have become your own idol. Worry, spiritual anxiety is the liturgy we use to worship Self. Martha is fretting about Mary while Mary is contemplating Christ. Martha is expending time and energy trying to control Mary, trying to will her into helping her with the chores. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. Now, we could conclude from this that sitting in silent contemplation of the Lord is objectively better than being up and about doing stuff for the household. But notice that the issue here is not contemplation vs. action. The issue here is Martha's anxiety. Could Martha serenely contemplate the Lord while serving? Could Mary be in the throes of worry while sitting quietly next to Jesus? Yes to both. But the Enemy has convinced Martha that whining to the Lord is a good way to control Mary. And controlling Mary is a good way for Martha to worship herself. In the real world, Martha isn't serving the Lord; she's serving herself, her true god. That she is “worried and anxious about many things” is evidence of her idolatry. Now, before you conclude that Martha is some sort of horrible person – keep in mind – Martha loves Jesus. She has acknowledged him as her Lord. And she believes that bustling around fetching him tea and biscuits is evidence of her devotion. Notice what's missing. She is focused on service as service. She is focused on doing for the sake of doing. She has forgotten why she serves. Could Martha serenely contemplate the Lord while serving? Of course she could. Why doesn't she? Because she sees her service as an end in itself. The point of service – for her – is to serve. She has forgotten that loving the Lord is the point, loving Christ and giving him the glory is the goal. When Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen the “better part,” he is not telling her that active service is inferior to contemplation. He's telling her that being at peace in his love is better than worshiping the Self with worry. If anxiety is an idol for you, remember the end for which you were created and be at peace.

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25 June 2023

Do not fear; bear witness

12th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Fear has its uses. Fear of my daddy's belt kept me and my little brother from killing each other on many occasions. Fear might've kept you from doing something stupid like driving drunk or experimenting with illegal drugs. Maybe you remained chaste until marriage b/c the possibility of having a child w/o a spouse scared you senseless. Whatever terrible thing fear prevented you from doing, it probably saved you a lot of trouble, maybe saved your life. Being cautious, being careful is just good sense. But this is not the kind of fear Jesus is warning us about this morning. The fear Jesus is warning us against is the kind of fear that kills the soul, the kind that prevents us doing or saying what we know to be the right thing to do or say. This kind of fear is deeply rooted in cowardice, the failure of courage to risk everything in bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel. If, by witnessing to Christ, you fear losing a job or a friendship or even your life, then consider Jesus' warning: “...do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

We call that kind of fear. . .awe. Reverence. Wonder. Veneration. It's the kind of fear that Job experiences at the end. The kind that strikes us at the root of our being and reminds us that we are dust. Loved dust, yes. Dust given life again in Christ, yes. But still dust. And nothing we have and nothing we are adds even a quanta of dignity beyond what God Himself has already given us. So, when Jesus warns us not to fear those who can destroy the body but not the soul, he's warning us to put our supernatural goal above and beyond whatever we might want to hang onto down here. Whatever it might be that we think is going to heal us, make us happy, free us from death, it ain't. Anything created will die. Medicine, money, career, even family and friends – all created, all temporary, all headed toward death. It is best to make sure that a fear of losing what's always passing away doesn't prevent you from grabbing hold of him who cannot pass away. It is best then to attach yourself to that which is uncreated and permanent. When the time comes – and it will – do not deny Christ the faithful witness he is due. “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” That's his promise to us. He follows this promise with another: “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

How do we acknowledge Christ before others? There are obvious, visible ways to witness. Wearing a cross. Praying before meals in public. Bumper stickers. Carrying a rosary and praying it. These are common and easy. Not much chance anyone is going to call you out for this kind of witness. . .esp., in TX. You can ratchet up the danger a bit by talking to co-workers about your faith. Maybe throw in a bit of witness if you teach at a public school. Privately challenge a family member's persistent and public sin. If you really want to feel the full weight of the world's opposition to the Gospel, then you have to go Big. Run for an elected office and bring the Light to gov't corruption. Get a seat on the school board and challenge the theology of Woke Religion. Threaten the Unholy Sacraments of the elites – abortion, gender ideology, and sex w/o consequences. Now you've got the world's attention! When the pressure to buckle starts to bear down on you, what do you do? “Fear no one...do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

Now, I've been assuming here that you're looking for trouble. Actively seeking out chances to bear witness. And that's a good thing. But what happens when you're just living your Christian life, the world finds you, and demands your surrender? Whatever you do, do not play the Enemy's games. He wants you angry, self-righteous, set on a worldly victory. He wants you puffed up with indignation and fury, ready to lash out, seeking revenge for the insult. Do this and you have denied Christ. Like a cornered and wounded animal, you've attacked as you were attacked and the witness you bear denies the Father's providence. He won't take care of me, so I have to it myself. How can He take care of you if you refuse to receive His care? Do not play the Enemy's game! Meet opposition with truth in love. Bear witness to the truth and do so for no other reason than love. Truth is not a weapon to achieve victory. It's not a tool for burying your enemies. Truth is a person, Christ Jesus. He is the Way and the Life. Show the opposition Christ. Don't just tell them true things. Be the Truth for them. Demonstrate the mercy you yourself have received. Show them the Way. Walk it with them or for them. Whatever you think you have to lose, God will provide. 

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23 June 2023

Stealing credit from God

11th Week OT (W)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Just a few days ago, Jesus said to the disciples, “...your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds...” This morning he says, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them...” So, which is it, Jesus? Shine or hide? Let others see our good deeds, or keep them hidden? Well, like most moral choices, we have to think hard about our motives for doing good deeds. Why am I performing this good deed? If it's to let everyone know how wonderfully generous I am, then I'd best keep the deed hidden. That's what's best for the health of my soul. If, however, I'm doing the Good so that others might give God the glory, then I'd best bring the media and shine as brightly as I can. The simple truth is: I could not have done the Good w/o God, so He gets the credit. It might not be immediately apparent why making sure that God gets the credit for my good deeds is essential to my spiritual health. Consider this: everything you have and everything you are is a gift from God. Freely given, freely received. Your spouse, your kids/grandkids, house, job, car, everything. That you are in the first place is a gift. Your talents, your health, your vocation. All gifts. At the end, nothing you have or are belongs to you. Not your body, not your soul. Nothing. It's all God's. And He gave it all to you so that you can use it all to give Him glory. When you use all He gave you to give Him glory, you become a way and means of diffusing His limitless goodness into the world. The more His limitless goodness is diffused, the more His Gospel is heard and answered. If I make my good deeds about me and my pathetic need for applause, then I make my good deeds about my very limited goodness. Sure, the example I set may spark a copy-cat benefactor or two, but all I've done is help another needy ego get an attention-fix. Spiritually speaking, I've lied. I've done the Good and claimed the credit when the Good I've done is not mine to do. It's a false witness. Jesus condemns hypocrisy for this very reason – stealing credit for the Good done while never allowing the Good to change me for the good. So, do the Good and give God the credit. Not b/c He craves glory but b/c doing so highlights a fundamental truth of reality, a truth that brings others to Him – every existing thing is a gift. All of it. You, me, everything is His first. The Good we do can never be anything but secondary. We can either steal the credit, or give credit where credit is due. Only one these options brings us closer to Christ.

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18 June 2023

Poetry Writing Exercises

NB. I taught a poetry writing workshop at UD back in the summer of 2011. Some of these exercises may have been borrowed from a workshop text. I can't remember. . .

What does one do in a poetry workshop? 

A couple of HancAquam readers have written to ask what does one do in a creative writing workshop. Well, we spend most of our time reading and critiquing student poems. When we aren't doing that, we read and critique published poems. In this summer's workshop, we are focusing on contemporary poetry published in the U.S. and the U.K. We spend one day a week writing in class using exercise I've cobbled together. Here are a few examples:

Epigraph Exercise

Choose one of the quotations below as your epigraph:

“What do you love better: the ruin or its repair?” – Eric Pankey, “Prayer”

“Repetition is the death of art.” – Robin Green

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” – Plutarch

“Earth, is it not this that you want: to rise/invisibly in us? – Is that not your dream,/to be invisible, one day?” – R.M. Rilke, “Ninth Elegy”
“The woman wants a salad.” --Ange Mlinko, “A Few Leaves of Salted Rocket”

Compose a twelve-line free verse poem that argues against the idea/sentiment presented in the epigraph.

No form of “to be” may be used.

You must include the phrases: “ducks and oranges” and “beats me” in the poem.

Each line MUST be exactly eight syllables.

Junk Drawer Exercise

You are looking for a rubber band.

In your kitchen junk drawer you find the following:

a can opener
a box of staples
a screwdriver
several broken pencils & dried pens
a watch w/o a wrist band
two used tubes of Chapstick
a handful of coins
a bottle of baby aspirin
two Christmas cards from 1983
a plastic spoon
several packets of soy sauce
a couple of crumpled receipts from WalMart
a seed catalog
five keys on New Orleans Saints keyring
a pocket-sized bottle of bug spray

Choose nine of these items and compose a free verse poem consisting of seven couplets.

You need the rubber band to save your life.

Not-guilty Confession Exercise

In a prose poem of no fewer than 75 words, confess to a crime you did not commit. You may not mention your innocence; however, it must be clear that you are innocent.

Give specific details of the crime—details that only the criminal would know.

Include the penalty for the crime and how you intend to deal with it.

You are confessing to your “victim” or the victim's family/friends.

Missing Persons Exercise

Media sources all over the world are reporting that individuals seem to be randomly disappearing.

Not only are these people disappearing physically but memories of them are fading as well.

Choose five of these people and compose a twenty-line elegy for them.

Include enough detail to distinguish them from all the other individuals who have disappeared.

Questions in Heaven Exercise

After a long and happy life as an award-winning poet, you die in your sleep and arrive at the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter greets you with the following request, “You've lived a long and happy life as an award-winning poet. The Angelic Host needs your help. The questionnaire we use for admission into Heaven has become a bit outdated. Would you compose a list of questions for us that tests a soul's grasp of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty?”

St. Peter needs no fewer than eight questions that never mention Truth, Goodness, or Beauty nor do they hint at their true purpose.

The questions may not refer in any way to religious/spiritual concepts or use language that might betray their religious/spiritual nature.

The idea is to ask recently separated souls questions that only indirectly test their humanity.

Antique Store Exercise

While on a road trip to __________ you come across an antique store called Noah's Next Ark.

You stop for a bathroom break and decide to explore the store.

Compose a longish (20+ lines) poem about what you find in the store.

While exploring the store, you discover that you have been killed in an auto accident.

What do the things in the store teach you about the nature of chance?

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He prays for shepherds

11th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Why does Jesus pity the shepherdless sheep? They are – probably – a flock of lost, hungry, sick, and unwashed folks who have been abandoned by the Temple and the Empire, left to wander in spiritual and material poverty, despairing of any hope and lacking any trust in legitimate authority – legal, religious, or otherwise. They follow Jesus around b/c he speaks with an authority that strikes them as authentic, real. He heals. He feeds. And they've witnessed him casting out demons. Word spread. Here's a man who is more than an office, more than a representative of a distant ruler, more than just another voice from the Temple. He might be the Son of God, the Messiah. He might actually be who and what he says he is. And what if he is? What if he is the Messiah? Then, there's hope! There's an end to the hunger, the sickness, the despair. We can trust again. We can trust that God's promises are not locked away safely guarded in a temple vault or hoarded in a Roman barracks. His pity, his compassion will see us through and beyond. Jesus sees lost sheep. And his compassionate response is to give them shepherds.

Jesus appoints the 12 apostles b/c he sees the sheep for what they are. Men and women created in the image and likeness of God, struggling to find their way back to God. Living in the world while not being of the world, they are lost to the powers of darkness and fear, threatened by both material and spiritual forces they do not understand and cannot resist. Rather than giving them a new set of rules or a revised book of policies and procedures, Christ gives them a team of laborers, a college of apostles to shepherd them. Each one sent out to be Christ wherever he lands. These apostles establish a church, an assembly of believers who gather to pray, to baptize, to break bread, heal the wounds of sin, and study the Word for preaching and teaching. As these churches grow, suffer persecution, grow some more, and mature, the apostles are replaced with more apostles. And the sheep come to understand that they too have a ministry. They have a mission rooted in their own death and resurrection in Christ Jesus. They too are priests, prophets, and kings. Because the laborers are few and the harvest is abundant, Jesus prayed for more. More laborers. More help. The apostles and priests cannot do it all. God answers with sheep who themselves become priests, prophets, and kings.

If I asked you how many priests we have in the chapel this morning, you might say four or five. How many prophets? How many kings? If you say none, you'd be wrong. If you are baptized and confirmed (anointed), you are a priest, prophet, and king in the Church. We draw a distinction btw the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood – a difference in kind not just degree – but the ministries of both are fundamentally the same. Intercede and sacrifice; preach and teach; and bring Christ into the culture for its sanctification. Those of us who are ordained, fulfill our offices in leadership – in persona Christi Capitis. All the baptized and confirmed serve in persona Christi. In the person of Christ, you are baptized and confirmed as priests, prophets, and kings for the the mission and ministry of Christ in the world. You are authorized to act and speak in the person of Christ wherever and whenever you find yourself. You don't have to wait for an ordained priest to pray, to sacrifice, to love, show mercy, or forgive. You are Christ where you are. Yes, we need ordained priests for the valid celebration of the sacraments! But you do not need to be ordained to be a sacrament of love for the world.

For some, this truth is freeing. For others, it's scary. You might prefer that the burden of being Christ in the world fall only on the ordained. That limits your liability for being a good Catholic to Sundays, HDO, the occasional confession; no meat on Fridays during Lent; and a crucifix on the bedroom wall. But – the harvest is abundant and the laborers few. Jesus prayed for help. And he got it. In the form of all the baptized and confirmed! This means that each one of us is charged with being Christ wherever we find ourselves. Not just while kneeling in the pew. But at home, at school, at work, at WalMart, at Whataburger, wherever we are. We are charged with gathering the harvest and caring for the sheep. The lost, the hungry, the sick, all of the Father's creatures who seek to return to Him. We hope, we forgive; we speak the truth in love; we cast out dark spirits and show those afflicted to the Light of Christ. Then we return to the sacraments – intercede and sacrifice, preach and teach, and recharge to go out again and bring Christ to the world, proclaiming, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

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