18 February 2018

We must be made ready

1st Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the desert. Why? Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Messiah. Why must he endure 40 days of hunger, thirst, and loneliness? He doesn't need the discipline to help him repent of his sins. He is sinless. He doesn't need the time alone with God the Father b/c he is God the Son. Satan knows who he is, so there's no need for Jesus to prove his identity to himself or the Enemy. What makes our question even more interesting and infuriating is that Mark uses the Greek verb, ἐκβάλλει (ekballei) which means “casts out.” The same verb used to describe what Jesus does the demons he encounters in his ministry. So, in the same way that Jesus casts out demons, so the Holy Spirit casts Jesus out into the wilderness. There's an almost dismissive or casual sense that Jesus is being “thrown away,” tossed out like garbage. But to get the full picture here we need to remember where Jesus is heading next. He goes to Galilee and begins to preach, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Before he can endure his passion in Jerusalem and die on the cross at Calvary, he must be made ready. We too must be made ready. And Jesus shows us the way.

We can think of Jesus' time in the desert in the same way that we think about his baptism. The Messiah, sinless and unable to sin, doesn't need to be baptized. Jesus' baptism in the Jordan is God's way of revealing His Son to us; His way of announcing to the world that His Christ has arrived. Jesus forty days in the desert didn't need to happen either; that is, he didn't need to endure all that for his own sake. He did it for us. He did it to reveal himself – his true nature and purpose – before he set off to Galilee to begin his public ministry. What this scene in the wilderness tells us about our Lord is that though he cannot be properly tempted, he knows that we can. He knows that the power of the Devil – though real – is ultimately temporary and deceiving. And he know that when we place ourselves at the mercy of Father, we will be ministered to by the choirs of angels. None of this knowing on Jesus' part prevents us from actually feeling hunger, thirst, loneliness, or pain. Our knowing that we can be tempted doesn't make enduring temptation any easier. Knowing the Devil's power is deceptive or that we are ministered to by angels makes the preparation for our own passion and death any more pleasant.

BUT knowing that Christ has gone before us and is with us now, makes any trial here and now endurable. Knowing that Christ is with us when we fast, when we pray, when we give what we have to others, knowing he is with us always and everywhere, that makes our troubles more than endurable. . .it makes them sacrificial. When do as he did and speak as he spoke, and when we do and speak in his name for his sake, we follow faithfully behind, picking up his work and his words, and we bear witness in the world to the love that made it possible for him to die on a cross for us. His forty days in the wilderness with Satan and the wild beasts was our preparation, the preparation of his future body, the Church, to carry on with his ministry. And, thanks be to God, we do not minister alone. The same spirit that drives Jesus into the desert, the same spirit that saw the angels minister to him, and the same spirit that set the apostles to fire at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that binds us together now in the Church.
Make these forty days of Lent a time for preparation for your own passion and death. It may sound a bit morbid. But think: death misses no one; no one gets out of here alive. Take this season to heart and spend the time necessary to dig deep into your relationship with God. He loves you. Do you love Him? If there is sin in your life that prevents you from receiving His love, confess it, repent, and believe the Gospel! If there is temptation pestering you, name it and face it. Call on the Holy Spirit for help. That's His job. If you are attached to something that has become a god, an idol for you, sacrifice it – make it holy by giving it up. Fast and pray. There is no better way to see the deceptive power of the Enemy than through the eyes of fasting and prayer. Give what you have to others. There is no better way to destroy the power of attachment than to surrender whatever it is you believe you can't live without. Jesus did it all before us, he did it all for us. And, now, it's our turn to prepare. Prepare well. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”

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11 February 2018

Why does God love us?

6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Why does God love us? One answer to this question goes like this: God love us b/c He is Love; it is His nature to love – Love is who He is and what He does. According to His nature, God cannot not love. If we take the question to mean – what is the ultimate purpose of God's loving us? – we get a slightly different answer. The purpose behind God's loving us is to change us for the better. And to change us for the better, God's love requires our cooperation. God will not force us to love Him. He will not force us to change. He loves us without condition or pretense b/c it is His nature to love. So, you need never worry about whether or not God loves you. He does. Always. And in all circumstances. If you must worry, worry about whether or not you love God. Notice the leper. Despite his disease, despite the fact that he is required by Mosaic Law to avoid healthy people, and declare himself Unclean, he approaches Jesus, kneels, and begs, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus touches the Leper and says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Christ loves without condition or pretense, but he will only cleanse you of sin if you ask to be made clean.

In recent years, the Church has been roiled by internal debates about the nature of mercy and sin; the morality of “second marriages” and taking communion; whether or not the individual conscience trumps the Church's moral teaching; whether or not a pastor can bless same-sex “marriages.” The different sides of these debates line up like you might expect: those who say every case is different so we cannot impose universal rules and those who say that there are rock-bottom truths that always apply to all cases. We hear that God loves us unconditionally, therefore, all are welcome! We hear that God hates sin, therefore, sinners must not be welcomed as sinners. Bishop Bob says we must embrace the sinner. While Bishop Jim says the sinner must be admonished. Pastors and lay folks get in on the action – documents are quoted; popes are cited; councils invoked; and theologians and Celebrity Catholics rant in the media about the respective rigidity or moral laxity of the other side. Either the Church must always keep up with the times, or the Church must never change. Notice the leper. His faith in Christ pushes him to ask for healing. He asks. And Christ heals him. God loves us in order to change us. To make us holy.

Some would have us believe that God's unconditional love affirms the OK-ness of our sin; that is, they say, since God always loves us (true), despite our sin (true), then our sin must be OK. False. My sin is a sign, is evidence that I do not love God. He still loves me, true, but I do not love Him. If I am to be healed, I must ask to be healed. If my sins are to be forgiven, I must ask to be forgiven. And in order to ask to be forgiven I must first actually believe that my sins are indeed sins! But if God loves me despite my sins, why bother with asking for forgiveness? Because my sins tell God that I do not love Him, and He will not force His love upon me. Without my cooperation, God's love cannot help me to grow in holiness; without my cooperation, God's graces go unused. And when my time for judgment comes, God will honor my choice not to love Him and allow me to live apart from Him for all eternity. The love that God has for of us does not – in any way – diminish or negate the damage we do to ourselves when we sin, when we refuse to repent of that sin and ask for His mercy. Notice the leper, begging, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And Christ responding, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Ask, receive. No asking, no receiving.

So, the bottom-line is this: if all you want out of your life as a follower of Christ is to be loved by God. . .well, you got it. You're done. In fact, you were done the moment you were conceived. God loved you in your mother's womb; He loves you now, and He will always love you. He will even love you as you choose to spend eternity separated from Him. If, however, you want your life as a follower of Christ to be a love affair between you and God, a mutual, life-giving, grace-filled affair, then you will name your sin what it is and ask to be healed. And God will heal you b/c He loves you. What you – we – cannot do is ask God to love our sin, to pretend that our disobedience is not disobedience. Doing that would make God – who always loves us – an accomplice in our damnation. That He cannot/will not do. Lent is fast-approaching. We'll be charged with spending some time and energy examining our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Take some of that time and energy to explore the depth and breadth of your love for God. Ask yourself: do I just presume that my sins are forgiven b/c God loves me? Or, have I actually asked Him to heal me? The difference it makes is eternal.

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04 February 2018

Everything is Lost!

NB: from 2006 a Vintage (oh boy) Fr. Philip Neri homily! (The deacon preached tonight. . .)

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas 
Hear it!

Everything is lost. Nothing really lives here. There is no light, no life, no hope of being found. There is work with no purpose. Movement toward no end. Day, then night, then day again. No meaning. Pointless striving. Unraveling hours of nothing at all. Sleep brings no rest. Work never tires. It won’t end soon enough. Or, too soon. Like an exhausted wind weakly blowing dust. Sigh. Job is not a happy man. He’s learned that his life of blessing and prosperity is very easily washed away. Troubled nights. Restlessness ‘til dawn. His life like a wind. Never to see happiness again. Job has lost his faith. And with it his humility and his gratitude. Self-pity and anger are not the seeds of blessing. So, he will be hopeless, restless, and sleepless until he finds again a purpose bigger than his small dreams, his little dramas of success.

We read tonight that Jesus and Paul know their purpose. And they know happiness in knowing their purpose. What makes you happy? What Purpose do you serve?

Isn’t it easier getting out of bed in the morning knowing you have a purpose, knowing you have a goal to achieve, a To Do List for your life that needs some work? Isn't it easier making it to work or class or the next thing on the list knowing that your attention, energy, labor, and time will be focused on completing a mission, on getting something done? With the time we have and the talents given to us, don’t we prefer to see constructive and profitable outcomes? Even when we’re being a bit lazy, wasting a little time doing much of nothing, we have it in the back of our mind to get busy, to get going on something, checking that next thing on the list and moving toward a goal. It’s how we are made. It’s how we live in the world.

Paul writes to the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation have been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” Paul has been given an end, a goal, a purpose beyond mere survival, beyond merely getting along. Having been smacked around by the Lord for persecuting the Church, Paul finds himself ordered to a regime of holiness, a kingdom of righteousness, that demands more than rule-following, more than simply showing up and breathing the temple air. Paul must preach. He must travel city to city, province to province, publicly witnessing to his repentance, to the power of Christ’s mercy.

Paul’s sleep is restful. His work exhausts him. He is a slave whose labor is never drudgery, never pointless. His end, his purpose is Jesus Christ, the telling again and again of his story, his bruising encounter with the man of love. And offering to anyone who will open their eyes to see and their ears to hear, offering to them the same restfulness, the same pleasing exhaustion, the same intense focus of a purpose driven by the need to proclaim Christ.

Jesus, doing his best to find a little time away from the crowds, responds responsibly when Simon and other disciples find him and say, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus, pursued, literally, by his purpose says, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Soon he will look out over the vast crowd and, moved by compassion, teach them many things. Now, nearly exhausted himself, he takes his students out again to preach and teach the Good News. It is his purpose—to show those hungry for God that God does indeed rule, that He holds dominion here, over all creation—heaven and earth, human and devil—and that healing flows from faith, light always overcomes darkness, and that evil, no matter how much ahead in the race, has already lost.

Job has lost his purpose and dwells in an anxious darkness. Paul is driven by his need to witness. Jesus reveals His Father’s kingdom—healing, driving out demons, preaching. Job recovers his purpose when the Lord dramatically reminds him who is God and who is creature, Who Is Purpose Himself and who has a purpose. Paul runs his preaching into every town he crosses, proclaiming the Word, setting up houses of prayer, and leaving behind men and women strong in the faith. Jesus moves inexorably toward the Cross, his work for the Way along the way reveals again and again the always, already present victory of Life over Death, freedom over slavery, final success over endless failure.

What goals do you serve? Why do you get up in the morning? What meaning does your work, your play have for you? Who are you in light of what you have promised to be and do? What makes you happy? Where do you find joy? Lots of questions! But all of these are really just one question: what is your purpose?

You have a given purpose and a chosen purpose. Your given purpose is dyed into your flesh, pressed through into your bones; it is a God-placed hook in your heart, a hook that tugs you relentlessly back to God, back to His perfecting goodness. Your chosen purpose is how you choose to live out day-to-day your given purpose, how you have figured out how to make it back to God. Student, mother, professor, virgin, priest, monk, artist, poet, engineer, athlete, clerk, scientist, father, nurse, dentist. When your chosen purpose best reveals your given purpose, when what you have chosen to do helps who you are given to be flourish, your anxiety finds trust, your sleeplessness finds rest, your despair finds joy. And you can say with Paul: “All this I do for the sake of the gospel,”—heal, study, pray, minister, write, research, teach, drive, build, all this I do for the gospel—“so that I too may have a share in it.”

What Purpose do you serve? I mean, when you work, when you study and teach and play, toward what end do you reach? What goal seduces you forward, pulls you to the finish line? Surely for us, all of us here tonight, that purpose is Jesus Christ. Our goal is his friendship, his love. And our goal is his witness, our telling of his Good News. We can waddle around in the darkness of sin, bumping around blind, reaching for what’s never there. We can wail into the wind like Job, moaning about the meaninglessness of life, the pointlessness of our daily striving. We can even refuse happiness, refuse to see that we have a given purpose. But you will find your release and your license, your freedom and your choice when you make yourself a slave to all, when you make yourself all things to all, to save at least some.

Like Paul, a trusted steward, a faithful child, preach the gospel. Live it right where you are. Make it your reason for getting out of bed, for going to work, for making it to class. Make it who you are, what you do, and everything you ever will become.

Everyone is looking for you. For what purpose do you live

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28 January 2018

Anxiety Kills

4th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Distraction kills. So does anxiety. But spiritual distraction and anxiety can kill you. . .forever. Between December 21st and January 22nd I drove Interstates 10 and 55 some 2,310 miles back and forth among NOLA, Houston, and Memphis. In all those miles I lost count of the number of times people passed me on the road doing 90mph while texting, talking on their cell, putting on make-up, and eating. One guy passed me doing over 90 holding a plate in one hand and stuffing a piece of pizza into his face with the other. Ninety plus MPH w/o a finger on the wheel! That sort of distraction will kill you and anyone who happens to be in your way. But as bad as distracted driving is, it can't compare with a distracted and anxious spiritual life. So Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I should like you to be free of anxieties.” And Jesus casts out a distracting and unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue, saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” For us to grow in holiness, for us to flourish on the Way to the Lord, we need to be free and quiet. Free from worry and doubt; free from attachments and worldly burdens. We need to be quiet, surrendering ourselves to the loving-care of God our Father.

What does this all mean in practical, day-to-day terms? Paul, ever practical, says that marriage can cause us to be anxious. Husbands distract wives. Wives distract husbands. He doesn't mention kids, but I'm pretty sure they can be their own sort of anxiety! He's clear that his point is not about the innate value of celibacy over marriage but about what it takes to be freed so that our hearts and minds may serve the Lord unburdened with the worries of pleasing a spouse. It's not the Grand Problems of Being that Paul believes drives us toward the unclean spirit of Anxiety and Distraction but rather the mundane, everyday, purely routine chores that accumulate over time and wear us down. Paying the bills, laundry, lawn care, car repair, buying groceries, going to work, cooking, cleaning, the stuff we all do every single day. So the trick is to stop doing these things, right? Husbands and wives are cheering Paul on! No, that's not his point. His point is to do these things in order to please the Lord. If the routine stuff we do everyday is done in the spirit of pleasing the Lord, then our routine stuff becomes something truly worshipful, truly spiritually beneficial. It all becomes prayer, a means of speaking to God our Father.
Look again at the man possessed by the unclean spirit. Jesus orders the spirit to be quiet and come out! He separates the spirit from the man; he doesn't destroy the man b/c he's possessed. . .he frees him. He removes from the man the spirit that is causing him to be distracted and distracting. We can do the same with our every thought, word, and deed. We can – in the name of Christ – consecrate (set aside, separate) everything we think, say, and do to the pleasing service of God thus making our entire earthly existence one long sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Pay that car note and give God thanks that you have transportation. Buy groceries and praise the Lord that you will eat tonight. Clean the house in the name of Christ to keep it filled with his abiding love. Give God thanks for your co-workers. You have others to help you with your job. Many of you will confess to being distracted during Mass, thinking about Sunday football, or the roast in crock pot, or the kids' undone homework. What if instead of seeing these thoughts as distractions you see them as promptings from the Holy Spirit to give thanks to God for giving you leisure time, food to eat, and children to love? 
There is no reason for us to be anxious or distracted. Neither anxiety nor distraction has any power over us. . .IF you choose to place your anxieties and worries into the hands of God, trusting that whatever good thing you must do will be done to please Him and give Him glory.

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26 January 2018

Death is Not the End

Mom's Memorial Mass
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Death is not the end. We know this. Death is not the end, and we know this b/c Christ died to defeat death. He died on the Cross to put an end to sin and death, to create in us a hope for the resurrection and life eternal. Death cannot be the end b/c “hope does not disappoint,” hope in, trust in the promises of Christ cannot fail. And we know this b/c Christ himself prays, “Father, those whom you gave me are your gift to me.” We are Christ's, and again he prays, “I wish that where I am they also may be with me. . .” And we are here, where he is, in the Body, giving thanks for his passion and death, and hoping in our resurrection when Defeated Death comes to take his best, last shot. Death is not the end; it cannot be the end b/c we – each one of us – b/c we are bought, paid for, and delivered into the possession of, the family of God, our Father. We are His adopted sons and adopted daughters, reborn in baptism, confirmed in the Spirit, and joined into the Body through his body and blood. If dying is not the end, then why does the death of a mother, a father, a child, why does it hurt so much? If dying is not the end, then what do the dead do for us, for those left behind?

The dead bear witness to our enduring hope. If we open our hearts and minds to the fleeting nature of our earthly existence; if we acknowledge our fragility in this fallen world; and if we have surrendered ourselves to the cross of Christ, following him in all things, then the dead minister to us in their absence from our lives; that is, by not being with us still, they bring us back to a pillar of our faith – the enduring hope of the resurrection and all that that hope requires of us while we still live. The dead, in the hardest possible way, remind us that our lives are given to us – not earned, not borrowed but freely given. They remind us – by their bold absence – that our promised eternal lives are gifts as well. Never earned, never merited by own hands, but freely given, freely gifted. In their silence, they remind us that our hope must be lived – daily, hourly – until we come face-to-face with Christ himself for judgment. The ministry of the dead is remembrance. Even as we remember those who have died, they tend to our desire to forget who we are made to be, who we are re-made to be in Christ Jesus. Even as sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then are we loved now that we are justified by his death and resurrection?

How do we hope in the face of death? How do we go on? Jesus prays to the Father, “I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” We know His name. And we know that the Father's love for His Son is with us, and that Christ is in us. The hope that cannot disappoint is our good habit of living knowing that – as we follow Christ – death in the world is as fleeting as life in the world, a passing through onto the resurrection of the body and life eternal. But even with hope, the death of a mother, a father, a child, death hurts those left behind. Perhaps part of that hurting is the ministry of the dead, their traumatic way of bringing us back to clarity and commitment; their way of pushing hope back into our lives when we have chosen despair. If all of this is true, then to mourn, to grieve is to welcome and nurture hope – as painful as it is. And those who mourn are blessed b/c their dead minister to them with the hope that only Christ can promise and deliver. Death is not the end. Death is defeated. But all of us – each one of us – will be left behind. And our faith in Christ will travel with us. Then one day, it will be our turn – through our bold absence – to minister to the living, to pray for those still on the Way.

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20 January 2018

Funeral Arrangements for Mom

Mom's visitation and funeral arrangements:

Family will receive guests on Sunday, January 21, 2018 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm at Olive Branch Christian Church, 8300 Craft Rd. Olive Branch, MS. 

Services to immediately follow. 

Burial will follow at Autumn Woods Cemetery.

Obit from Brantley Funeral Home 

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18 January 2018


I ask your prayers for the repose of the soul of my mother, Nancy Rebecca.

She died this morning at 9.15.

God bless, Fr. Philip Neri, OP


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11 January 2018

Thanks and an Update on Mom

Big Mendicant Thanks to Jenny K. for the bottle of paint.

Thanks to the anonymous donor(s) of all the jars of paint.

Mom is only able to breath w/o the vent for a few hours at a time. Since she has been intubated for a week, the doc said that he will need to perform a tracheotomy in order to avoid damage to her vocal cords. 

Please continue your prayers for her and for my dad, Glenn.

Frat., Fr. Philip Neri, OP


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10 January 2018

Great News!

Great News!

Mom is breathing on her own this morning. The vent tube is still in place in case she needs it, but she's been doing all the work since around 9.30am (CST).

Thank you all for the prayers!

Frat., Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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08 January 2018

Prayer Request for Mom

Prayer Request. . .for those of you who are not on Facebook: my Mom, Becky, has been in the ICU since Jan 2nd. She caught the flu and experienced complete respiratory failure -- she has COPD. She was put on a ventilator and has been on it since. Yesterday, the docs discovered that her right lung had collapsed. They inserted a chest tube to re-inflate it. We're hoping/praying that she will be able to come off the vent tomorrow (Tues).

Your prayers for her would be most appreciated!

Frat., Fr. Philip Neri, OP


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25 December 2017

I Became a Child Among You

NB: A Christmas homily from 2006 -- Vintage Fr. Philip Neri, OP!

The Nativity of the Lord 2006
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving

The Word speaks and everything is. The Word names everything that is “Very Good.” On stones, the Word etches wisdom and truth and promises His human creatures abundant blessings, strength, prosperity, and children like the stars. Wild men wander out of the desert to speak the Word again and again to bring back to memory and mind promises made and received, vows of obedience and fidelity, a covenant of identity, power, singular divinity. The Word of the Law and the Prophets recites for us a litany of loving deeds—miraculous acts of mercy, rescue, healing—deeds done for us, and repeats with near-chant solemnity His promises of salvation, fidelity, holiness, belonging, love, peace, fruitfulness, and friendship. The Words calls. Whispers. Bellows. Pleads. Bargains. Threatens. Cries. The Word came to what was his own, but his people did not accept Him. And so, the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw—finally!—His glory.

What have we heard of this Word? What have we seen? We hear the cry to repentance and holiness, the cry for justice and peace. We hear the promises of eternal healing and glory. We see the reparation of disease and injury, the repair of sin’s ruin among us. We see the blessings of God’s hand in our lives, the abundant flood of riches—for some: health, wealth, education, children, loving family, a perfecting vocation; for others: gifts of intelligence, influence, generosity, strength to persevere, patience, peace; and still others: gifts of music, speech, art, wisdom, counsel, true holiness and insight. We hear the rustling Word moving in hearts spacious with joy, emptied of anxiety and fatigue, and the whispered invitation is clarion-clear: become my children! I became a Child among you so that you might become my children.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we see His glory. The Nativity of the Lord celebrates a unique event in human history, a miraculous intervention in space and time—Bethlehem some 748 years after the building of Rome: the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son takes on human flesh—one person, two natures: human and divine. The Word at creation, the Word of the lawful stones and the prophets, the Word of the whirlwind, the pillars of fire and dust, the Word of destruction, and the Word spoken to Mary, our Mother; this Word, the Son of God, becomes the Son of Man and lives here among us. The Christ Child has arrived. Infant Grace, Infant Mercy is here. We see and hear his glory as the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth and ready to fulfill for us His promise of salvation!

Are we ready to hear this promise? Ready to reach and grasp the covenant that will save us? Our history with God has not been an exemplary story of careful attention and compliance! As a race we have been willfully ignorant, prideful, disdainful of being taught, and violent with God’s prophets. And we have been sacrificially generous, gracious, truly humble, and welcoming to the stranger and the outcast. It is this spark of charity, this flicker of holy light in our history that speaks to our readiness for the promises of God. A readiness, by the way, that is fundamentally a readiness to love and a readiness made ready only b/c God loved us first!

If you will stand to receive the promises of God in His Son’s birth among us as Man, you will stand ready to receive the promise of your own godliness, that is, you will stand ready to become God with God. Our salvation is no mere rescue mission, no simple matter of healing the God-Man rift. The purpose of the Incarnation is our divinization. God became Man so that we might become God. The purpose of the Incarnation is our transformation into the Christ Child, our transformation into the Anointed One for the mission of preaching the Gospel to the world. If the Son became flesh to reveal the Father, then flesh, once healed, is revelatory of divinity, that is, made ready to show out Christ. The Son did become flesh to reveal the Father. Your flesh is healed in baptism—freed from sin, no longer bound to disobedience and angst. Therefore, you, O Healed Flesh!, you reveal the Father!

If you think your job as a Catholic is to show up here for Mass, drop a check in the plate, and shake Father’s hand on the way out…stop right there and consider what you do here this morning: you will come forward and eat the flesh of Christ, drink the blood of Christ and you will pledge to go out into the world as Christ to be Christ for everyone you meet! Christmas, the Mass of Christ’s Birth, is most certainly a celebration of our Lord’s nativity, but it is also a celebration of our birth as Christs for his mission of grace and truth. You see, this Mass can’t be just a matter of remembering some ancient event, some legend or myth; it can’t be about simply calling to mind again a pleasant childhood story of barn animals, shepherds, and a little drummer boy! This Mass is your Nativity. You are born as Christ b/c Christ took on flesh in birth. Your flesh. You hands. Your feet and tongue and eyes and ears. Your gifts for his mission. From his fullness we have received grace upon grace, gift upon gift, goodness upon goodness, a beautiful completion and a stunning perfection polished for loving everything into eternal life.

The Word made flesh is Love made with bone and blood, mercy given stature and weight. We celebrate a singular event this morning, a one-time grace in history—the sending of the Son among us as Man. We also celebrate a daily event, an hourly grace: our own persistent transformation into Christ, our magnificent fight to be born as Christ, to see and hear His Word rustling in our hearts—a determined murmur or a dramatic call or a silent pause—to see and hear His Word occupying the tabernacle of our one desire: to be filled, satisfied with His presence; all our longing for love and peace, given freely; hunger assuaged, thirst slaked, gnawing need emptied; to breath His glory and to be free. Our one desire: to be free as His slaves.

And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us and we see His glory! The Christ Child is here. Infant Grace, Infant Mercy is among us. Full of grace and truth He is here. History bends to account for this miracle of giving, this wonder of the Father’s gift of His only Son to us. Make your lives wonders around which history must bend; miracles around which all the stories we will ever tell must flow. With Christ, be the true light which enlightens the world. Go out and be yourselves the Word made flesh.

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17 December 2017

How to grow in holiness

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

If you need a summary of Christian spirituality, something short and sweet as a daily reminder of who and what you are, you really can't beat these three sentences from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks. . .” What do I do to grow in holiness? Rejoice, pray, give thanks. How often should I rejoice, pray, and give thanks? Always, without ceasing. And when should I rejoice, pray, and give thanks? In all circumstances. If Paul is being serious here – and Paul is always serious – then the Christian response to every victory, to every failure, to every set-back, to every moment of both progress and retreat should be met with rejoicing, prayer, and giving thanks! This third Sunday of Advent is a short pause in our season of preparation and repentance to remember that Christ is coming and he is coming again. The God of peace makes us perfectly holy and preserves us blameless – spirit, soul, and body – for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in response to this great gift from the Father, we rejoice, pray, and give Him thanks.
First, we rejoice! But how do we rejoice? Remember the Blessed Mother, carrying Jesus in her womb, visiting Elizabeth her cousin who was pregnant with John? When Mary came close to Elizabeth, John leaped with joy! John was conceived in Elizabeth's barren womb for the singular prophetic purpose of being the herald of Christ's birth into the world. John leaped with joy b/c he recognize his purpose in Christ; he “saw” his goal, the end for which he was made. And his reaction was to rejoice – to celebrate with exuberance and delight. When the priests and Levites ask John – “Who are you?” – he answers, “I am not the Christ.” He doesn't immediately tell them who he is; he tells them who he isn't (the Christ) and who it is they must come to know and love (the one who is coming after him). Each one of us, conceived in our mothers' womb by the loving will of our Father, has a purpose, a goal; and in the waters of baptism, we have been charged with a mission, the same mission that causes the not-yet-born John to leap with joy. John is the herald of Christ's birth, his first coming among us as a man. We – each one of us – is a herald of Christ's coming among us again, as our Just Judge. Accept this mission anew and rejoice! Celebrate exuberantly like John did in his mother's womb. 
First, we rejoice; then, we pray. What do we pray for? Paul writes, “Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” If we will be fruitful heralds and prophets – like John – then we must surrender ourselves to the wisdom of the Father in prayer, testing, proving everything we say and do against the Truth of our faith. We cannot be authentic prophets for Christ if we lie about the faith, if we bear false witness against the Gospel, or pretend that we know what is true and good better than the Church does. There can be no such thing as a free-floating Christian prophet, someone who invents – apart from God's Word and the Church – his or her own truth in order to deceive. So, we must test everything and keep only what is good. Paul also tells us that we must refrain from doing any kind of evil. Prayer, especially joyful prayer, brings us closer and closer to God, strengthening our bonds with Him, and clarifying our purpose in the His truth. Whatever or whoever attempts to turn us away from our prophetic mission is tempting us to do evil. John came “to testify to the light, so that all might believe. . .” Ask God your Father in prayer to keep you sharply focused on your mission, to turn aside any temptation to give up. That's what we pray for.

Rejoice, then pray, and, finally, give thanks! Giving thanks to God in all circumstances builds humility and makes it possible – more and more – for us to receive His graces as He gives them. Giving thanks to God in all circumstances guarantees us against the sins of entitlement, greed, pride, and envy. Giving thanks to God in all circumstances provides us with the direction, energy, and clarity we need to bear witness to His Christ and carry out our mission as prophetic heralds. Rejoicing and prayer are themselves kinds of thanksgiving. What better way to express our joy than to shout our gratitude to God for His gifts? What better way to pray than to turn our hearts and minds to gratitude for all that we have been given? The Enemy comes against us with an array of powerful weapons: despair, cynicism, suspicion, divisiveness, unrighteous anger, and hatred. All of these undermine Christian joy and make it difficult for us to give ourselves wholly to God. So, we pause in this season of preparation and repentance to celebrate the joyful task that we have been given and have received – to proclaim far and wide that Christ Jesus will come again! His mercy is freely given. To sinners his forgiveness is absolutely guaranteed.


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10 December 2017

What kind of person ought you to be?

2nd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Last Sunday, I called Advent “winter's Lent.” And there is a penitential flavor to the season. But there is also a taste of rejoicing before we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. We turn out our sins and expose them to the Lord’s mercy, AND we rejoice at the promise of His coming again. We take stock of the time we’ve spent so far, AND we offer to for God's blessing the time we have left. Repent and rejoice. Convert and sing praise. Confess and follow righteousness. Therefore, prepare His way in your heart, your mind, your body, and your soul. Lay a clear path to the center of your covenant with Him, open the gates of your reason for His light, make a gift of your work for His works of compassion, and your soul an offering of immortal praise. Now is the time for searching faults and finding mercy, for opening wounds and finding health. Advent is the time to straighten your path to God. Advent, winter's Lent, is that time for us to ask ourselves: what sort of person ought I to be?

And so, what sort of person ought you to be? This is the perfect question for Advent because it is a question that requires us to think in terms of who we ARE and how we ought to ACT. It is a question that requires us to think about how we balance between being good and doing good. In his letter, Peter, asks his readers what sort of persons they should be given the coming of the Lord. He then immediately elaborates on the question by adding, “…conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” Who we ARE goes hand in hand with how we ACT. For the beloved of the Lord, being good and doing good are inseparately bound together. We wait and prepare and repent. We cultivate holiness and practice devotion. And like John the Baptist, we cry out in the desert of wherever we are: “Get ready! He’s on His way!” Who ought we to be? We ought to be prophets.

As the One Who Comes Before the Christ, John the Baptizer appears out of the desert preaching repentance. As the prophet Isaiah says, he is the messenger sent ahead, a voice from the desert urging those who hear his cry to “prepare the way of the Lord.” This makes John a prophet, a herald. He’s the guy who showed up first, told the truth about Who and What was coming, and offers those who listen a chance to get themselves straight with God. He is an alarm ringing in Jerusalem, calling everyone away from sin and toward righteousness.

John isn’t just about serving up the doom and gloom of The End. He offers more than a prediction and sharp tongue. John made it possible in his preaching for those listening to begin a better way toward God, to start over with the Father and bear good fruit. He offers a baptism of water to wash away repented sins. And he offers a vision of the straightened path to the Father: the good fruits of repentance will show that you are ready for the coming of the Lord AND make you a prophet. Yes, we ought to be prophets, but are we ready to be prophets?

It is not enough that we acknowledge our sins, wash in the baptismal waters, and come spotless to God. Our acknowledgment of sin, our willingness to be found without blemish, must produce good fruit. Being good in theory builds lovely temples in the air. Doing good for show makes good religious theater. But airy temples never last and the curtain falls on even the best theater! Living our lives as prophetic witnesses – that’s the sort of folks we ought to be!

But what does it mean for us to be prophetic? It doesn’t mean putting on camel hair shirts and eating locusts and honey. It doesn’t mean standing on the street screaming about fire and God’s wrath. It doesn’t even mean being particularly pious or holy if by “pious” and “holy” we mean being outwardly righteous for show. 
Nor does being prophetic mean taking all the right political positions, protesting all the wrong ones, signing petitions, and marching around with wearing little buttons and issuing self-important statements. All that can be as empty as false piety.

So, what does being prophetic mean? Let’s look at John. He comes out of the desert, a desolate place, a place devoid of life. He finds his voice there. Outside family, friends, culture, and civilization, John finds a voice to proclaim the Coming Christ. He doesn’t use this voice to promote himself. He speaks of Another. He doesn’t prepare the way for his own celebrity. He celebrates Christ. He doesn’t try to make his own life easier by claiming some sort of divine connection. He makes the paths straight for the Lord. He doesn’t try to “fit in” or blend in or “inculturate.” He preaches against the cultural grain, against the prevailing morals. He is not concerned about being comfortable with his role or finding satisfaction in his ministry or being a team player. His is a lonely voice. He does not coddle the legalists or the revolutionaries, the lawyers or the trendy academics. He calls them to repentance and a life of good fruits. He points again and again to Christ, the mightier One, the One Who Comes to baptize in the Spirit. Always pointing toward Christ, always toward Jesus. This is what a prophet does. 
Absolutely, we ought to be prophets. We are ready to be prophets if we will acknowledge our sin. Repent. Turn around. Face God. Produce good fruit first and then expect it from others. We will be prophets if with every thought, word, and deed we proclaim the coming of the Christ – as a child and as a Just Judge. Advent is our training season. Now is the time to get into prophetic-shape!

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03 December 2017

How well do you wait?

First Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

I am not a patient man. I yell at the priory coffeemaker to hurry up. I can recite the entire Nicene Creed waiting for the doors of the seminary elevator to open and close. And I'm the guy behind you at the intersection honking his horn the second the light turns green. I have Patience Issues, but I bet some of you do too. That we have to wait sometimes is inevitable. In traffic. In the register line at Walmart or the DMV. We don't have much choice then. We also have to wait for the birth of Christ and his coming again. No choice. That we wait is a given. What's not a given is how well we wait; that is, how we choose to spend our time waiting.
So, here's question for you: do you wait well? I mean, are you able to pause in your day and give control of your time to something or someone else? A machine (the reluctant computer, the lazy coffeemaker, the elevator in no hurry at all) or a person (the cashier discussing his break time with a coworker, the SUV driver chatting on the cell phone stopped at the green light)? Can you hold your yourself in suspension, just stop and let something or someone else’s agenda, their needs, their wants, their time take precedence? Because that’s what waiting is. Waiting is what I (we do) do when I bring myself to acknowledge that my agenda, my needs, my wants, my time are subject to change, subject to the whims and quirks of other people, the random workings of machines, the weather, and the markets. Pretty much any and everything out there that can run interference on my plans does so, and so I wait, giving over to the hard fact that I am subject to other people, other things.

That we wait is a given. The only question is: how well do we wait? Waiting well is what we are given the chance to do during Advent. And we start in earnest today.

Just in case any of us holds the opinion that Advent is a season of joy, a pre-season of cheeriness gearing up for the Real Cheer of Christmas, we have on this First Sunday of Advent a sobering reminder of exactly what Advent is. From Isaiah we have this confession: we are sinful, an unclean people, even our good deeds are like polluted rags; we are dried up like fallen leaves, and our guilt carries us away like a wind! Yes, Advent is all about confessing ours sins, turning back to God, asking for forgiveness, and waiting, waiting, waiting on the arrival of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Advent is penitential. It is winter’s Lent. And it is a season for us to live Isaiah’s confession: “O Lord, we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” If Advent is going to be a season of good spiritual fruit, if we are to claim and name our sin, turn away from disobedience, and beg forgiveness from God, then we must bring fresh to our hearts and minds the wisdom of Isaiah’s confession: we are made from the stuff of the Earth, breathed into life by the divine breath, shaped, and given purpose by a God Who looks upon us as works of art, creations to be loved and saved and brought back to Him unblemished. This is our short time before celebrating the coming of our salvation for us to prepare ourselves to be found lacking, needful, and humble before the Lord.

Starting here, we wait. Yes, we wait. And if we are to wait well, we wait on edge – the thin moment between repairing and giving thanks, confessing and praising, wailing and rejoicing. There is a still, quiet eagerness, a sharp keenness to this season. It demands of us a stiff attention to who we are as fallen creatures and who we can be as children of God. It demands of us an exercise of patience and a hurrying to be done, the practice of serene persistence and a rushing to finish. Our prayers this season provoke us into knowing ourselves completely, to know ourselves as we are, and to bring that knowledge to the Lord as a gift, an offering of sacrifice.

We wait. And we watch b/c Jesus urges his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert!” But this is not an order to sit quietly, looking to the East, waiting to be found. We are to be busy with seeking the Lord in prayer, in praise and thanksgiving, and in the good works of mercy and compassion for one another. Jesus is not ordering his disciples to complacency, to quietism. He is ordering them (and us) to alertness, to strict attention to the source and summit of their mission as those sent to preach and teach the gospel. We are to be working for the good of our Master’s kingdom while he is gone, laboring to produce a good harvest to celebrate his return. We watch b/c we know he will return, he will fulfill his promise to come back to us, bringing with him our reward for faithful service and strict attention.

And so we wait. But do we wait well? Waiting is how we give to one another some measure of control, some small piece of power over us in order to admit that we are joined with those who live beside us. I know men and women who will drive themselves crazy refusing to admit to themselves or anyone else that they need others or are needed by others. Their false independence poisons everything they do, everything they are, and they slowly disappear from sight. They cannot wait well on the Lord b/c they cannot live lives of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and praise.

To confess, to repent, to forgive, and to praise are all moments in the divine life that clearly speak the reality of our total dependence on God and express our willingness to work with His other children in the kingdom for His greater glory. Our Advent season is that time of the Church year when we are given the chance to pay strict attention to who we are as fallen creatures and who we can be as children of the Father. It is a time for us to wait well on the Lord—to give him control, to give him lordship of our lives, to rule and reign as Lover of our hearts, Master of our souls, and God of everything we have and everything we are. This next week, allow the Lord find you in need of his salvation, ready to be forgiven in repentance, and impatient to offer him thanks.


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26 November 2017

Feast or Fire? Who's Your King?

Christ the King (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

What do you think of when you hear the word “authority”? Not so long ago here in the U.S. that word would have brought up images of security, certainty, limits, comfort. Scientists in lab coats solving problems. Military personnel defending the nation against our enemies. Police officers keeping the peace. Mothers and fathers raising families. And Catholic priests and religious teaching the apostolic faith. Pick another point in human history and “authority” might conjure images of the National Guard fighting rioters; overcrowded ration stations; or the church burning heretics. These days, “authority” seems to be something of a dirty word. Our national and cultural establishments have surrendered most of their moral authority to secularism's “long march through the institutions.” It is no longer entirely clear to many of us who we are, why we are, or where we are going. And waiting on the arrival of some person or event to give us direction is leading us to a national emotional breakdown. The solemnity of Christ the King is celebrated this morning in order to remind us that when the authority of the world betrays us, when it fails, as it inevitably does, Christ our King never has and never will.

We can imagine the Christ the King in hundreds of ways. Glorious Ruler. Wise Leader. The Great God-Man. All would probably capture some aspect of his sovereignty and might. Matthew shows us what Christ the King looks like on the Last Day. The Just Judge. The Righteous Measure of Souls. Taking into his view the length and breadth of our lives in his service, the Just Judge weighs our deeds against our misdeeds, our generosity against our stinginess. He weighs the degree to which we have absorbed his love and shared it with our brothers and sisters through concrete acts of charity. He tests how well we have forgiven; how well we have hoped; how often we have depended on his gifts; and how sincerely we have submitted to his authority as our King. Those who stand transparent before him, the ones through whom he can see his own face, he will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For those souls muddied by stinginess, hatred, self-righteousness, and greed, he will say, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” It is the feast or the fire.

The sharp clarity of this parable is shocking. There's no wiggle-room here. No “but what he really means is” interpretation. If Jesus had wanted to remain somewhat obscure in this teaching he could've done so. . .easily. He's done it before. But what we have here is a stark, black and white, Yes/No choice. (I don't think we modern, American Catholics are used to this sort of thing!) Our choice is simple: serve Christ the King by serving the least of his, or don't. The result of each choice is laid out for us as plainly as they can be. This is my choice. Your choice. How you and I are judged on the Last Day is up to you and me. Am I a sheep or a goat? An obedient servant of Christ? Or a self-serving sinner? Lest you think this whole parable about guilting you into being good boys and girls, keep in mind – there's nothing hidden here. Christ the Just Judge is laying out before us what Judgment Day will entail. There's no guess work, no gotcha's, no “if I had only known's.” With his authority as our Redeemer, our King, Jesus tells us – “Serve me by serving the least of mine.” 
How do we serve the least among us? Start with Christ; that is, from the root of your service make Christ the top, bottom, and center of your work. Your motive is Christ. Your inspiration is Christ. Your strength and resilience is Christ. Above all, your final goal, your end is Christ. Good works are good works. BUT good works done for the sake of Christ and his ministry are good works with everlasting effects. Don't feed the hungry b/c they hungry. Feed them b/c Christ in them is hungry. Don't visit the sick b/c they are sick. Visit them b/c Christ in them is sick. IOW, treat the hungry, the naked, sick, the imprisoned as if Christ himself is hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Gov't agencies, secular relief services, non-profits can feed, clothe, and visit those in need. But only Christ can minister to Christ. And on the Last Day you want Christ the Just Judge to look at you and see himself. You served him and in doing so perfected the Father's love in you.


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