26 February 2021
21 February 2021
1st Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
I've been teaching in one form or another since I was 22yo. This May I will turn 57. It took a while, but I finally figured out that the best teachers never stop being good students. The best teachers know what they know, and they know what they don't know. More importantly, they aren't afraid to keep on learning right along with their students. Same goes for the Christian. Perfection in holiness doesn't happen for us in an instant of flashy enlightenment, or one emotional outburst after conversion. Neither does it come with hours of study or advanced academic degrees. Holiness is learned and practiced by the diligent student. It's taught and demonstrated by the accomplished teacher. What does any of this have to do with the 1st Sunday of Lent? Think of these 40 days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving as an intense, short-course in growing in holiness. Christ is our professor. And here's the first homework assignment: get up every morning and pray, “Make your ways known to me, O Lord; teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me.” Go to bed every night, praying: “Thank you, Lord, for making your ways known to me; for teaching me your paths; and for guiding me in your truth.” Holiness begins in humility and is made perfect in gratitude.
So, how do we cultivate humility and gratitude during Lent? We have the three traditional Lenten practices to help us – fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. All three of these practices draw our attention to the poverty of our human condition. I don't mean poverty as in being financially poor. I mean poverty in the sense that we are totally, utterly dependent on God for everything we have and everything we are. We are impoverished in the sense that nothing we have is really ours and nothing we are is really our doing. Everything we have and are is a gift from God. Everything! Knowing this truth and living this truth in the world is what we call humility. I own nothing. I know nothing. I am nothing. . .except that I own, know, and am who and what God has given to me for my use. Returning everything I have and everything I am to God with praise and thanksgiving is what we call sacrifice, making holy by surrender, leaving nothing as our own. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving put humility into daily practice. “Teach me your paths, O Lord; guide me in your truth and teach me” to fast, pray, and give alms.
Fasting can be as simple as eating just one meal a day. But eating just one meal a day can also be called dieting. What distinguishes fasting from dieting? Ask yourself: what's my goal in eating just one meal a day? Why am I doing this? If you are doing it to lose weight so you can fit into your Easter dress or your Easter suit, then you're dieting. If you are skipping meals to prepare yourself to receive the graces of Christ's Passion on Good Friday and the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, then you're fasting. You are acknowledging and putting into practice the humility necessary to grow in holiness. You are saying, in word and deed, “I am ALL yours, Lord! I am getting myself ready to receive all you have to give me!” Fasting and abstinence from meat on the Fridays of Lent is a requirement of the Church, an ancient practice long known to promote holiness. But why is it required? We are members of the Body. Each one of us contributes to the Body. Your holiness makes the whole Body holier. Your humility and gratitude makes the whole Body more humble and grateful. The holier the Body as a whole, the holier the members are individually. “Teach me your paths, O Lord; guide me in your truth and teach me.”
So, you have 40 days to take an intense, short-course on holiness. Who will be your teacher? Who will you turn to for help when things go sideways? Who will you look to as an example? Well, who's your teacher during the rest of the year? Who do you invite into your life, your family, your home, your job every day to show you how to be holy?Are you learning to be a holy Christian from social media? Politicians? Actors? Athletes? Maybe you're learning from Celebrity Priests and self-appointed Popes on the internet. If so, I urge you to drop those classes and enroll in Prof. Jesus' class. He shows us how it's done. He shows us how to live lives of loving sacrifice. He shows us how to fast and how to pray. And on the Cross, he shows us how to give, how to give everything. There is no better teacher. He's not going to scratch your itchy ears with what you want to hear. He's going to teach you that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Not b/c he needs to teach but b/c we need to be taught. His way is The Way. His truth is The Truth. His life is The Life, the life we all need to flourish and grow in holiness. “Make your ways known to me, O Lord; guide me in your truth and teach me.”
18 February 2021
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA
Life is complicated. There are no black/white choices. Just big gray areas. Truth is what we make it, what works. These are all standard, American slogans that we've probably heard all our lives. And there is some truth in them. But, if there are no B/W choices, then we have to allow for the possibility that, in some cases, B/W choices are all we have (cf. self-referential incoherence). Here enters Moses, saying to God's people: “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.” Love God. Obey God. Walk with Him, keeping His commandments and you will live and prosper. Deny God. Love alien gods. Walk away from Him, disobeying His commandments and you will surely die and wither in the land. “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.” That's pretty B/W. This is what Lent is about. Making that fundamental choice btw life and death eternal. Jesus says we must lose our life to save it. We must choose our cross. The gray moral areas, the complications, the practicalities that torture reason and logic will come. They always do. But at the foundation of these complexities is a B/W choice that each one of us must make: do I want eternal life or eternal dying? Do I want to prosper or wither away? Do I want God's blessing or His curse? Life is complicated. But we don't start with a problem. We start with a choice.
13 February 2021
6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Here's the thing. . .the thing you must, must understand: the Lord always and everywhere, without exception or condition, always and everywhere, wants to make you clean. It is never the case – NEVER – that the Lord doesn't want to make you clean. It should never enter your mind: does the Lord want to make me to clean? The answer is always yes. Don't even ask the question. Why? Because the answer is always yes. If you already know the answer, don't ask the question. The leper asks the question because he's not sure. He's not convinced that Lord wants to make him clean. Why should he think the Lord doesn't want him to be clean? He's got no good reason to think he does. Leviticus is clear that lepers are outcasts. They have to dress like mourners for the dead. They have to shout “unclean” wherever they go. There were bells and signs around their neck, announcing their infectious disease. Not to mention the stench and obvious oozing scabs. This leper has no good reason to believe that Jesus wants him to be clean. You, on the other hand, have every reason to believe, to know that Jesus not only wants you to be clean but that he can actually make you clean. This isn't about Jesus and what he wants, it's about you and what you want.
The leper wants to be clean. But he has no good reason to believe that Jesus will make him clean. But he asks anyway, “If you wish you can make me clean.” Notice the difference between what Jesus can do and what he wishes to do. The leper has heard about Jesus and his healing miracles. The leper knows that Jesus can heal him. The question is whether or not Jesus wants to heal him. Jesus resolves the mystery: “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leper is made clean. Here's where we have an advantage over the leper. We know that Jesus wants/wills us to be clean. Our disease isn't leprosy. Our disease isn't being run out of town for having oozing, scabby sores. Our diseases are much less physically dramatic but far more deadly. Our diseases unsettle not just the body but the soul. Our diseases infect and damage our person – who we are as children of God and heirs to the Kingdom. Our diseases are freely chosen rebellion and willful disobedience. Am I talking about COVID and cancer and Alzheimer's? No. I'm about those thoughts, words, and deeds that we select, that we favor in direct opposition to the will of the Father for our flourishing. I'm talking about sin.
And even as I talk about sin, I am confident that Jesus wants to heal us. He wants to make us clean. Not only can he makes us clean, he wants to make us clean. And not only does he want to make us clean, he became Man and suffered painfully and died on the Cross and rose from the grave and ascended into heaven. . .why?. . .So that we can be clean. There is no question there. He wants/wills/desires us to be clean. The question is: do we – you and I – want to be made clean? The leper is tired of yelling “unclean” everywhere he goes. He's tired of being beaten, run out of town, spat on. He's tired of being a pariah. He's tired of being the monster moms use to scare their kids into obedience. He's tired of being sick and tired. So, what does he do? In faith, with fear and trembling, he approaches the Lord, the one he's heard about in the streets, and he says, with faint confidence and a little bravado, “If you wish you can make me clean.” What's he got to lose? What? Jesus will rebuke him for daring to ask for a miracle? He might get smacked by one of the disciples for impudence? He's got nothing to lose. He's got nothing to lose. . .but his disease. That's what we call a Winning Hand.
The secret of the Gospel – if there is one – is that you have nothing to lose. You belong to Christ. You and everything you have. Your spouse, your kids, your property, the stuff that fills your property. You have nothing to lose in asking Christ to make you clean. You don't even have to gamble. The leper gambles because he's not sure about Jesus' intentions. You and I have 2.000 years of knowing and living the Apostolic Faith, so we know that Christ's intention in becoming Man, dying on the Cross, rising from the grave, and ascending into Heaven is that you and I can be healed. . .IF. . .we want to be healed, if we want to be clean. Do you want to be clean? Do you want to be healed? Think carefully before you answer this question: what do you have to lose? Your answer to that question reveals precisely who or what it is that's keeping you from asking our Lord to heal you. Your answer to that question is the name of the god you serve. And it is the name of the disease that owns you. The leper chooses Christ. And he is healed b/c Christ wills him to be healed. Choose Christ. In your disease, your anxiety, your despair, your sin. . .choose Christ. He has always said, is saying now, and will always say, “Be made clean.”
11 February 2021
5th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA
He could not escape notice. Even when he didn't want anyone to know where he was – he could not escape notice. And it's no wonder. He's been traveling around the region performing healing miracles and casting out unclean spirits. That sort of thing gets noticed! More impressive than miracles and exorcisms – at least to the Jews – is that he's one who teaches with authority, i.e. not like the scribes. The scribes repeat the teachings of others. They record, repeat, rehash, and quibble over minutiae. Jesus is the author of his teaching – the source and medium of the revelation he bears. Sure, he reveals the Father to the Jews. That's his mission. But he also brings that same mission to the Gentiles – the dogs who eat the children's scraps. Our Greek mother knows who he is and says so. She calls him “Lord.” And b/c she places herself and her daughter under his dominion, the unclean spirit flees. The scribes, bickering over jots and tittles, rule all the, well, all the jots and tittles. While Jesus, who cannot escape notice, bears an astonishing revelation and wields authority over both clean and unclean spirits. He teaches a Truth no one else can: place yourself and yours under his rule and find a peace, a Life along the Way – a way to live free of despair, violence, oppression, or slavery to sin. Christ could not escape notice for good reason. Everywhere he went he revived the God-gifted desire to be free.
07 February 2021
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Job is not a happy man. He's lost everything. His life is drudgery. He's a like a slave who works away his days in the sun. All his nights are troubled. He's soaked in months of misery. Restlessness while trying to sleep; hopeless while he's awake. He says, “. . .my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” We know all too well why Job is having such a tough time. He's lost everything. His wealth. His health. His family. All of it. Maybe he could suffer well under just his material losses, but he's lost one thing that all of us need most. He's lost his purpose. He's lost his end, his reason for living. If he had a purpose, he could look forward and place his losses within a bigger plan to reach that goal. But without a goal, Job has no way to give his suffering meaning. Jesus has a purpose. Paul has a purpose. And they know happiness in knowing their purpose. Ask yourself, “What purpose do I serve? What goal gives my suffering meaning?”
What's the point of having a purpose? 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 we're given, 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 to live in this world. Not merely to live for a daily To Do List, but to move toward some sort of perfection, some sort of final completion.
For example, 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 is given 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, one that demands more than rule-following, more than simply showing up and breathing in the temple's atmosphere. Paul must preach. He must travel city to city, province to province, publicly witnessing to his repentance, to the power of Christ’s mercy accomplished on the Cross.
Jesus, exhausted by his purpose, is doing his best to find a little time away from the crowds. When Simon and other disciples find him and say, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus, pursued, literally, by his purpose responds responsibly, “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. But now, 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 and that healing flows from faith, light always overcomes darkness, and that evil, no matter how far ahead in the worldly battles, has already lost war.
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 is your purpose? You have a given purpose and a chosen purpose. Your given purpose is built 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 Him, 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.” Everyone is looking for you. Everyone who has lost their purpose. Everyone who has yet to hear the Good News that Christ is their purpose. Everyone is looking for you. Show yourself! And show Christ.
06 February 2021
31 January 2021
4th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
You can't help it. I know, you can't help it. Neither can I. The worries that come with living in this world. There are obligations to meet – bills to pay, hours to work, relationships to maintain. There's the constant pressure to perform to the limits of your abilities. Being a good father, being a good mother, being a faithful priest and formator. Being a good son and daughter. Not to mention being a good citizen and taxpayer. The State demands its pound of flesh. The Church always seems to have its hand out. Your dreams pale and the realities of duty come into focus. It's easy to think that you are a cog, an insignificant piece in the machine of the world. What difference do I make? Where's my unique contribution? Is there a place for me to use my gifts, my particular talents? How am I not just a thing in all this? To make it all worse – there's a clock ticking away on my existence. There's a defined limit to my time here. No wonder we are anxious. No wonder we worry! But here's the thing – our nervousness about our contribution, our role in all this is irrelevant, pointless. Worry changes nothing. Never has. Never will. So, St. Paul says to us, “Brothers and sisters. . .be free of anxieties.”
Now, why should Paul care if we are anxious? B/c anxiety opposes faithfulness. He uses the word “amerimnous,” which means “free from care,” free from concern about the things of the world. He tells the Corinthians that being free from anxieties is not only proper to follower of Christ – as a sign of fidelity – but also a way to adhere to the Lord without distraction, a means of clinging to Christ w/o confusion. If you love nothing and no one more than Christ, then there is nothing and no one in this world to worry about. In fact, by loving Christ first and foremost, all of your other loves – spouse, children, friends – are all the more beloved b/c you love them with and through Christ! What is there to be anxious about? Yes, the bills still have to be paid. The kids still need to be fed and clothed. Yes, the parish still needs your help. And all the other little things that nip at you day in and day out require attention. But you are not anxious. You're not worried. Why? Because you know that who and what you are is found first in Christ Jesus, the one who is and will always be the first and only Lord of your life. IOW, you live your life for the Kingdom of God not the petty kingdoms of this world.
Jesus meets one of the petty tyrants of this world in the synagogue while he's teaching. The unclean spirit yells at him, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Note the unclean spirit's worry, it's anxiety. Have you come to destroy us? Having chosen rebellion over obedience, this spirit lives eternally apart from God, forever in a state of pure fear, paranoia, and rage. It's ministry among God's children is to stoke and feed the rage, paranoia, and fear we invite into our lives through faithlessness, through worry and disobedience. When confronted by the incarnate Son of God, the spirit reacts as its nature requires – primitive anger, revulsion, fury. It recoils from Christ and immediately proclaims him: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Jesus orders him: “Quiet! Come out of him!” And the spirit flees at his command. Likewise, when we are faced with the loving-kindness and mercy of Christ's sacrifice for us on the Cross, our anxieties convulse and flee. Whatever unclean spirits stoke and feed your fears, your worries, your anger – they flee – when you see and hear the astonishing truth that Christ teaches. They will flee – IF you let them go. With the authority of Christ, they will leave. IF you stop loving them more than you love Christ.
So, ask yourself: do I love my anger more than Christ? Do I love my hatred more than Christ? Do I love my fear and paranoia more than Christ? Do I love my self-pity, my victimhood more than Christ? Do I love my money, my social standing, my career, my professional reputation, all my stuff more than Christ? Ask yourself: what, who do I love more than Christ? Whatever or whoever that thing, that attitude, that person might be – that is your god. Now, can your god save you from the passing away of this world? Can your god give you eternal life? Will any of the things or people you love more than Christ die for you in your sin?Will worry get you a seat at the Wedding Feast? The astonishing teaching of Christ Jesus is that he has already commanded every unclean spirit in existence to come out of us. He has always already said, “Quiet! Come out of them!” We are exorcised at baptism. So, why do these unclean spirits of anxiety remain? Because we chose not to let them go. We choose to serve them. Paul says, “Brothers and sister, be free of anxieties.” Let go of disobedience, of rebellion; let go of rage, of paranoia; let go of everything but Christ. . .and live free in his love.
24 January 2021
3rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
The Kingdom of God is at hand! Time is running out! The world is passing away! Therefore, repent and believe the Gospel! We – the Church – have been hearing this prophetic message repeated over and over again for the last 2,000 years. The urgency of the message isn't tamed by the passage of time or by our weariness in hearing it. It was true when Jesus said it. It's true now. And it will still be true when the Lord comes again. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Time is running out. And the world as we know it is passing away. For some of us this truth seems self-evident. We've seen the world change. We've experienced the passage of time. We got the scars, wrinkles, stretch marks, and creaky joints to prove it. For others this truth comes across as a scare tactic, as a way for preachers and prophets to frighten folks into believing. Well, in this case, the truth is scary. You and I will die. We will all one day die. Eternal life awaits us. Whether we enter an eternal life of redemption or an eternal life of condemnation is our choice. The time and place to make that choice is here and now. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Time is running out! The world is passing away!
Therefore, repent and believe the Gospel! What does this mean in practical terms? Imagine: you're driving a car over an empty plain. On your cell phone is your best friend who's flying a drone above you. He's telling you about obstacles ahead, warning you about wildlife and the topographical features of the plain. As you are cruising along at 90mph he warns you that there's a cliff ahead. He can't tell exactly how far it is, but he can see it clearly. He warns you to turn around. You ignore him b/c the drive is just too exciting! Your friend starts to yell at you, screaming at you to turn around. But. . .you can't see the cliff, so your friend must be panicking for no good reason. Between the time your friends warns you about the cliff and the moment you drive over the cliff you have ample time to turn around. The cliff is real. It's there. The fact that you choose not to believe it's there doesn't make it disappear. So, you can turn around and save your life. Or, you can fall to a fiery death, believing the cliff is a figment of your imagination. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Time is running out! And the world is passing away! Paul, Jonah, our Lord – they are all drone pilots warning us that the cliff is real. Turn around before it's too late.
What does “turning around” entail? We use the verb “to repent” to describe the act of changing course, of stopping and moving in the opposite direction. Along with changing course and heading in the right direction, repentance includes a sense of regret or remorse for past sins, a strong conviction that one's life is disordered, out of alignment with God's will. Moral theologians tell us that “sin makes us stupid.” Granted, they use more theologically sophisticated language but that's the gist. Sin makes us stupid. Consistently choosing to do evil and call it good is the quickest way to become a fool. This folly becomes a way of life, a way of thinking and acting in the world. At some point – sooner rather than later – you can become so foolish that choosing the Good becomes almost impossible. You are in fact consistently, repeatedly choosing an eternal life of condemnation, an eternal life w/o God. That's the definition of hell. If sin makes us stupid, then repentance is the first step in returning to wisdom. Confess your sins, get your penance, make your Act of Contrition, and receive absolution. Our drone pilots are screaming at us to turn around. . .before it's too late.
Jesus says, “Turn around and believe the Gospel.” What is it to believe the Gospel? Belief here is more than just saying to yourself, “Yeah, ya know, that Gospel stuff sounds OK.” It's more than the occasional public show of religiosity – carrying a rosary in your pocket or attending Mass on Easter and Christmas or saying, “I identify as a Catholic.” The Church says that belief is giving assent to the truths of the faith. Saying Yes to the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That's the intellect at work. But the whole person must believe. That means your will has to move you to show that you believe – in word and deed, we must publicly demonstrate that we believe the Gospel. It's not enough to love Jesus in your heart. You must love him with your speech and your behavior, bearing witness to the world that you belong to him. Jesus says to the fishermen, Simon and Andrew, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” That's how we believe. We fish the world for the lost, the unloved; those thrown out; for the disordered, the imprisoned, and the sick. And we do so for the greater glory of God, that all those who are heading for the cliff might hear us screaming: “Turn around! Time is running out! Repent and believe the Gospel!”
17 January 2021
In my fantasy world all I have to do to get in shape – to get six-pack abs and arms of steel – is look in the mirror and wish it to be so! I can increase my IQ; speak foreign languages; and fix my gimpy knees. All I have to do is say, “It is so!” Boom. It's done. Right? Now, those of you who live in the real world know this is simply not true. Nothing worth having comes from wishing. Abs, special talents, non-gimpy knees don't just appear b/c we say so. Yet. . .how many of us believe that we can wish upon a star or a mirror or a rosary and magically become holy Christians? Back in my Baptist days I was assured that all I had to do to be saved was utter the magic phrase: “I accept Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior.” And. . .I'm done. Nothing more required. I am now a holy Christian. Two of John's disciples see Jesus walk by. John says of Jesus, “That's the Messiah.” The disciples want to know more so they ask Jesus where he's staying. Jesus doesn't say, “Accept me as your Lord and Savior, and you're good.” He says, “Come and see.” Follow me. Come stay with me. Live with me for a while. And you will see what you need to see.
That's how we acquire holiness. Follow Christ. Live with him. Listen, watch, and learn. The “just add water” method of holiness is attractive, no doubt. It's fast, easy, efficient, and guaranteed. But it's also complete nonsense. There is no shortcut to living in the world while also not being of the world. That takes practice. A lot of practice. It means trying and failing and trying again. It means misunderstanding and then coming to understand before. . .misunderstanding again. It means winning the war but losing the battle. And most important of all – it means trusting God when He says that He will never abandon us. Not you. Not me. None of us. We are certainly free to abandon Him. And we do so little-by-little every time we sin. . .but He never abandon us. What does this promise mean? It means that while we are flailing about struggling for holiness He gives us every gift we need to succeed. Every grace we can possibly imagine is simply handed to us for our growth in holiness. My gifts aren't your gifts. Your gifts aren't their gifts. Their gifts aren't my gifts. Each gift is given to perfect the receiver according to his/her needs. We serve as individual members of a Body. Without the Body, the Church, we are just free-floating souls looking for the impossible-to-find “just add water” means to salvation.
Paul writes to the fallen-away Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” As members of the Body then we follow Christ. We live with him. We listen and watch, and we learn. What's more: since we are members of his Body, we share his Spirit. Paul writes, “. . .whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.” So, not only do we live and move and have our being as members of his Body, the Church, we also live and move and have our being within his Holy Spirit. This makes it not only possible for us to grow in holiness, it also makes it probable that we will grow in holiness. . .IF we will it and follow through day by day, hour by hour. Is this method as easy and efficient and quick as the “just add water” solution some seem to prefer? No. But it has the distinct advantage of actually working as advertised. The quick and easy method will get you something spiritually akin to a MickeyD's Happy Meal. Cheap. Tasteless. Gimmicky. What the Lord himself asks the disciples to do is: “Come and see.” Spend the day, a week, a year, a lifetime, listening, watching, learning, and then go out to live in the world while remaining apart from the world's deceptions.
I hope you've heard me say that growing in holiness ain't easy. Becoming a member of the Body is as easy as getting baptized. From there, we work out our holiness with fear and trembling. But we do so as gifted parts of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. Not as free-floating atoms working all alone. But as a family, a society, a nation of priests and prophets charged with bearing witness to the Good News of Christ Jesus. How do you get six-pack abs? I'm told [ahem] that you have to do these things called “sit-up's” – I had to look that up – everyday. If you want to learn a foreign language – study, memorize everyday. If you want to sing beautifully or play a musical instrument, practice, practice, practice. If you want to grow in holiness – pray everyday; attend to the sacraments (esp confession and Mass); take up spiritual reading (I can recommend good books); and follow Christ by doing the Corporal/Spiritual Works of Mercy (look them up online). But most important: stay in the Body. Struggle. Fail. Fight. Win some. Lose some. Surrender to God's will and never cease giving Him thanks and praise. “Come and see” is forever. And God is with us the whole way.
14 January 2021
1st Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA
What is it “to harden one's heart”? My doctor tells me that dealing with HBP over a long period of time will force my heart muscles to stiffen. Like working leg my muscles at the gym. He assures me that this is the one time when I don't want to work my muscles too vigorously. A stiff heart can't do the job of circulating blood smoothly. In the same way, a stiff heart (spiritually speaking) can't receive or properly circulate God's graces through the person. Hebrews tells us that hard hearts result from unfaithfulness, a routine rejection of God's guidance and help. This is the kind of stubbornness that Ps 95 reports and Hebrews quotes. God's people stood firm against His graces at Meribah (provocation) and Massah (temptation), falling into the vicious habit of testing God despite having experienced His mighty works. So, to “harden one's heart” is to forget all that God has done for us. It is to stand stubbornly against His will and to test His faithfulness by daring Him to abandon us. How do we avoid hardening our hearts? We follow the example of the leper: we kneel, begging Him, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
10 January 2021
Baptism of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Brs/Srs, I'm tired. So.very.tired. I'm tired of the fighting. I'm tired of the lies, the gas-lighting*, the hypocrisy, and the vindictiveness. I'm tired of the double-standards in our national politics, our media, and in our Church. I'm tired of being accused of paranoia, racism, homophobia, and sedition. I'm tired of hearing that I am a right-wing nut-job who hates America AND a left-wing crazy who wants to burn the Constitution. (Apparently, I'm an equal opportunity lunatic!) I'm tired of the silliness, the anger, the vitriol, the division, and the fake outrage. Perhaps more than anything else, I'm tired of good people – good mothers and fathers, good citizens; solid, hard-working folks – being derided as rubes, Neanderthals, and idiots. I know I'm not alone in feeling exhausted by it all. This election season, along with COVID and the Summer of Riots and Looting, has proven – to me, at least – that while I am in the world, I am not of it. This isn't my home. But nonetheless here I am. Here we all are. Where do I go from here? More importantly, where do we go from here? The Baptism of the Lord shows us the Way!
We all know that Jesus didn't need to be baptized. As the incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus walked among the people free of original and actual sin. He didn't need to be grafted onto the Body of the Church b/c he was born as the Head of the Church. John the Baptist objects to baptizing Jesus b/c he – John – recognizes Jesus for who and what he really is – the Messiah, the Christ, the one sent to die for our salvation. We know that Jesus didn't need to be baptized. So why did he bother? He did for us. He did so that the waters of baptism might be universally blessed. He did so that we can see how to follow him. He did it so that those present and all of us 2,000 years later can hear the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” He did so that we know that we too are made beloved sons and daughters of the Most High by the waters of baptism. Baptism washes away original sin, actual sin, and makes us members of the Body. In other words, baptism takes us from the world while leaving us in the world. And it is this tension, this apparent contradiction that is so exhausting day in and day out. How do I live for Christ while living in a world set against his mission and ministry?
Here's where I find a partial answer: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit. . .” I don't mean to say here that I am in any way special in being the Lord's servant. All the baptized stand in the prophetic tradition and exercise the teaching and preaching office. I do it as an ordained priest. You do it as members of the royal priesthood. I do it from the altar and pulpit; you do it at home, school, the office, wherever you find yourself. What we need to know and remember is this: the Lord has put His spirit upon us. His spirit enlivens us; it transforms us; and makes us heirs to the Kingdom even while we live as citizens in the world. This means that though we live through the tumult of the world, we are not shaped by the world's troubles. We see and hear what's going on around us – the violence, the hatred, the spewing bitterness and anger – but we do not take it in. We do not allow it to poison us. Most importantly, we do not respond in kind. We cannot respond in kind and at the same time lay claim to our inheritance. What can we do? I think the better question is: what should we not do? Isaiah answers this question as well.
He writes: “[my servant] shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. . .” In fact, “. . .a bruised reed [my servant] shall not break.” Isaiah is prophesying about the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant. He prophesying about the Christ. Because you and I are baptized into the life, death, resurrection, and mission and ministry of Christ, he is also prophesying about us as the Church, the Body. We can and will bring forth justice to the nations. . .but not through rioting, looting, burning, killing, or screaming at innocent by-standers. Not by attacking gov't offices or assaulting public leaders. Not through election fraud or lawsuits or even the democratic political process. God's justice is not ours to mete out. The Lord calls us to the victory of justice. The Lord grasps us by the hand. He forms us. He set us as a covenant of the people. To be a light for the nations. To open the eyes of the blind. To bring out prisoners from confinement. And to free those who live in darkness. He does all this through our words and deeds, through our hearts, minds, hands, and mouths. And we do His work only so long as we do not surrender to the darkened spirits of this world. That is a real temptation – to respond in kind – tit for tat, eye for an eye. That, brothers and sisters, is the way to become the servant of the Enemy.
Jesus was baptized to show us the Way. To become beloved sons and daughters of the Most High. We live near the world, in the world, next door to the world. But we do not belong here. We belong to Christ! It is my duty and yours to show the world what it means to be a follower of Christ.
*Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement. It may evoke changes in them such as cognitive dissonance or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs.(Wiki)
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06 January 2021
Wednesday after Epiphany
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA
The disciples are terrified. High winds on the sea. Jesus walking towards them on the water. Mark tells us that the Lord “at once” says, “Take courage, it is I. . .” Literally, “I AM.” Jesus reminds his students who he is and thus why they should not fear. But why should I AM still their fear? John tells us, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” The disciples' fear is a sign of their forgetfulness. They have forgotten who God is, who Jesus is. “There is no fear in love [. . .] one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” This sounds like a bad thing. It's not a exactly good thing. But it's not entirely bad either. They (and we) are not yet perfect in love. Which means perfection in love is possible. . .if only we remember and take courage from the memory. Their forgetfulness (and ours?) results from hardheartedness – a refusal to believe and thus a refusal to understand. In this case, they did not understand the love manifested in the incident of the loaves. God's love is diffusive. God is love. Therefore, God is diffusive. God is with them (and us) always. When we believe this truth, we understand it, and He is perfected in us. When God is perfected in us there is no room left for fear. So, believe, understand, and be made perfect as God Himself is perfect.
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03 January 2021
The Epiphany of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
An epiphany is a revelation, an unveiling of a mystery. It's a eureka moment, an ah-ha moment when confusion is clarified and the darkness is thrown back. In the case of the Christ Child, the epiphany is ours. That is, we are shown who and what the Christ is during the visit of the Magi. For centuries the Jewish People have lived with the prophecies of the coming Messiah. He is depicted as a savior, a vanquishing warrior, a just judge coming to render a verdict on the faithfulness of Abraham's children. He is a light to his People alone, “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory.” Clouds over the Gentiles but upon Israel the Lord shines! The covenant Abraham made with God is for Abraham's children – Israel, the Chosen Ones. The Messiah is coming to save the Jews. But who will save the Gentiles? The Magi answer this question by paying homage to the Christ Child. By offering their treasures and themselves to his service, these Gentile kings reveal a great mystery: Christ comes to save Jew and Gentile alike. He comes to save the People and the Nations. And with this salvation comes a great responsibility.
What the Magi revealed to the world 2,000 years ago, you and I are charged with making known right now. You and I are charged – by virtue of our baptism – with the great responsibility of making known to the world of 2021 that Christ Jesus is the savior of all mankind. You and I are charged with the great responsibility of ensuring that anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see is aware of Christ's lordship over all creation. That no one we can reach leaves this life in ignorance of Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins. That no one will say on their deathbed, “I didn't know. No one told me.” If the Magi can travel thousands of miles using nothing but a star to guide them and visit the Christ Child to reveal his true nature and mission, then you and I can share their epiphany with those we encounter everyday. Do you know your faith well enough to speak directly and honestly about what you believe? Do you understand that your faith is a public act to be spoken of out loud? The apostles and disciples upon receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost burst out of the Upper Room and preached the Good News in every known language. They did not retreat into their homes and pretend that their faith was a purely private affair. You and I have a great responsibility.
In the same way that the Magi paid their homage out loud and in front of witnesses, so we too must live our lives as Christians out loud and in front of witnesses. I don't mean that we must be showy in our religiosity like the Pharisees. We aren't charged with being hypocrites – living privately as sinners and publicly as saints. I mean that our striving for holiness should be witnessed, a public display, a struggle for anyone who needs to see to see. Anyone who needs to hear about the mercy of God to sinners should hear about His mercy from us – those who have experienced it directly. Anyone who needs to see what it's like to come out of habitual sin and live in the freedom of Christ should see it happen in us. Anyone in despair, anyone who needs to know that hope is real and that God loves them should hear it from us – those who have come out of the darkness and into the light. No one needs our self-righteousness, our moralistic finger-wagging. No one needs to hear us preaching love and then watch us practice vengeance. No one needs to see our whitewashed exteriors and then smell our rotted insides. The People and the Nations need witnesses to Christ's truth – the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
And you and I are charged with this great responsibility. Thanks be to God that WE are charged with this responsibility. All of us together. As one Body energized by the Holy Spirit and united by one faith. This year will bring unprecedented challenges to the Church. We will be offered multiple opportunities to compromise the Truth so that we might live well in the world. We will be offered reasonable accommodations that make it easier to get along but that also weaken the faith. One drop of water dropped once on a stone cannot erode the stone. But billions of drops over hundred of years can crack that stone. The Enemy plays a Long Game against God's children. And even though he has already lost to the Crucified and Risen Christ, he's not above taking some of us to Hell with him. Ensure that you remain firmly and faithfully on The Way. Carry out your great responsibility as if your eternal life depends on it. Preach the Good News wherever you find yourself. Make known the marvelous works of our living God!
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24 December 2020
NB. A Vintage Homily. . .
The Nativity of the Lord 2006
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation
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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