29 March 2020

The Catholic Zombie Virus

NB. Not many chances to preach these days, so here's one from 2011. . .

5th Sunday of Lent 2011 Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph, Ponchatula, LA

Brothers and sisters, I bring you some dramatic news this morning! Reports have come in from all over the world that the dead walk among us. They've been sighted in all the world's major cities, shambling around dressed like the living, doing the ordinary things that the living do. They are difficult to spot since their demeanor is easily confused with those who still cling to life. They go to work, eat their family meals; go to school, church, the grocery store. The media have given these deceased mimics a group name. They are called simply, “The Dead.” But since that label is rather boring, I've decided to refer to them as Zombies. So, yes, Zombies walk among us, and more specifically, Catholic Zombies walk among us and pray among us and go to communion with us. In fact, there are probably several right here this morning! Otherwise normal looking, normal sounding Catholics who shamble around in their living bodies without a living spirit. What animates them, what gives them the appearance of being alive is uncertain. What is certain is that they are truly dead, and that their bodies are a walking grave. What can be done for these poor spiritless creatures? They must be freed from what binds them to the grave; freed from the walking death of sin. 

In the story of Lazarus' resurrection, we have an abridged version of the Dummies Guide to Catholic Zombies. This handy guide helps us to identify, diagnose, and treat those who appear to be alive in Christ but are actually long dead to his spirit. A warning page 23 of the Guide calls our attention to an uncomfortable truth: “The Catholic Zombie virus is virulent and unpredictable. It can infect anyone at anytime. It attacks the Catholic's sin-immunity response system, replicating its viral disobedience-DNA and leaves the Spirit of Christ Defense Network incapable of properly responding to temptation. No one is immune. Even the holiest Catholic is susceptible to infection and re-infection.” As a start to the recovery process, the Guide refers both the infected and their care-givers to the story of Lazarus' resurrection and to Paul's short treatise on the relationship between the spiritually dead and Christ. These two passages make it clear that the truly living—those who live in Christ, body and soul—live b/c they dwell in the Lord's righteousness, believing wholeheartedly in the Lord when He says to them, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them. . .Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!” Working backwards from cure to disease, the Guide reports that those most susceptible to infection by the Catholic Zombie virus are those who allow their Christ Defense Network to become weakened through inattention to personal prayer, the sacraments, good works, and holy reading. Working from disease to cure, we can see that the best treatment for the Zombie Catholic is personal prayer, the sacraments, good works, and holy reading. In other words, the best treatment is prevention. 

To get a better grip on how we can prevent the spread of the Catholic Zombie virus more effectively, let's look at Lazarus' resurrection story and tease out exactly how prevention works. Probably the most obvious tact to take in preventing the spread of the virus is to ensure that everyone around you knows the basics of good spiritual hygiene. For example, when Lazarus' sister, Martha, asserts to her brother's physician, Jesus, that Lazarus would rise again on the last day, Dr. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” After this brief revelation, Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” She responds, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” So, the first step to prevention is a profession of faith in the Christ, the Son of God. By believing in the Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, we can bolster our resistance to the Catholic Zombie virus and ward off the onslaught of temptations that comes from doubt.  

Another step in good spiritual hygiene is obedience to the Christ. The Guide points out that obedience is not a matter of mindless compliance with rules and regulations. Obedience starts by trusting Christ's wisdom and believing in the promises of his Father. Listen first, then act. Lazarus emerges from his tomb after having been dead for four days. Martha, Mary, and the disciples all play essential roles in his resurrection by obeying Christ. Jesus says to the disciples, “Let us go to back to Judea.” And they do. He asks to see Mary. And she runs to him. He asks to see Lazarus. And they take him to the tomb. He orders the tombstone removed. They obey. He cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” And he does. Finally, with the newly resurrected Lazarus standing before him, Jesus says, “Untie him and let him go.” We know that Jesus' intervention here works as prevention b/c John reports, “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.” Belief in the Christ is the first step in preventing the spread of the zombie virus! With belief comes repentance and with repentance comes the overwhelming mercy of God. Once we have come to depend absolutely on God's mercy, obedience to His Word is not only no longer a burden, it is a privilege—a privilege that inoculates believers against the weaknesses of doubt, anxiety, and pride.  

The final step in good spiritual hygiene is hope in the resurrection. The Lazarus story contains a very odd scene. Jesus is informed that Lazarus is sick and on the verge of death, John reports, “. . .when [Jesus] heard that [Lazarus] was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.” His friend is deathly ill and Jesus decides to hang around Bethany for two days. Hardly the reaction we would expect. Later on, Mary chastises Jesus for the delay, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The Jews who went with Mary to visit Jesus, upon seeing Jesus weep for the grief of the sisters, say, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” Why did Jesus delay visiting his dying friend? To instill in his disciples the virtue of hope, to bolster in them an immunity to the despair that death often brings. When he first heard that Lazarus was dying, Jesus says, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Lazarus' resurrection from the tomb serves to show the disciples (and us) that death is not an end for the believing soul. The hope of life after death renders the Catholic Zombie virus inert. With a deeply held hope in Christ, we too will hear him order us out of the tomb and tell our family and friends, “Untie him and let him go.” 

The Catholic Zombie virus is deadly. It can kill the spirit of Christ in us and leave us to walk among the living and the dead. The best treatment is prevention. Personal prayer, the sacraments, good works, and holy reading. But none of these is effective without a firm belief in the Christ, a willingness to obey his commands, and the good habit of hoping upon the resurrection. If you are dead inside, take heart, b/c the Lord has promised, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them. . . I will put my spirit in you that you may live. . .thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.”

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22 March 2020

Laetare in the Time of Plague!

4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare in the Time of Plague)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic, NOLA

Epidemics. Natural and man-made disasters. War. Political upheaval. These kinds of events turn our carefully crafted social order upside-down and challenge us to restore things to a comfortable normal. We deploy everything in our arsenal to make it all right again. And while we work to regain balance, we suffer. Sometimes just a little. Sometimes a lot more than we think we can bear. Here in New Orleans, we use Katrina as our standard for what counts as a Real Disaster. Thousands dead. Even more displaced. Millions in damaged property. Whole neighborhoods lost for good. Are we fully recovered 15yrs later? No. Not really. The walls of this church are still marked with the flood waters. And they should be. Because the people of this parish are marked as well. Like everyone else who lived through the hurricane surge, they are marked with the suffering of enduring a disaster. But these marks of suffering rest atop a deeper, more fundamental mark – the mark of Christ's light. Paul reminds us, b/c we need to remember, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” Before you suffer; long before you endure disaster, epidemic, or war, you are marked as a child of the light. 
This is a Lent no one wanted or expected. We want Lent to be a time of fasting, a time away from the usual. And we expect Lent to be a season of surrender and of small miseries. But none of us wanted or expected this Lent to be long days and weeks of living and dying without the efficacious graces of the sacraments. None of us wanted or expected this Lent to be defined by lock-downs, social-distancing, and fears of infection. No one wants to be abandoned, and no one expects to be betrayed. But maybe we should've. Maybe we should've expected all of this. We are children of the light in Christ. Come Good Friday, if we follow him, there will be no surprises. There will be abandonment, betrayal, loneliness, and death. For him and for us. Our suffering will be heavier this year. More “real” than in the recent past. But so will the light we share with Christ. As our suffering increases, his light grows brighter. So we, as children of light, must produce every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. That's our response, our supernatural instinct. Make no mistake: this is a time of testing, a trial. Panic, selfishness, hysteria, and fear-mongering are the tools of darkness. You have come into the light of Christ. Stay there. Come what may.

What has come is an epidemic. A pandemic. The latest in a long, storied line of diseases to infect the world. We are asking how, why, where, how many, who, and when. Like the disciples with the man born blind, we want to know the why's of this affliction. Science's answer is simple: viruses spread, infect, replicate, and kill. As Catholics, we accept and respect scientific knowledge as true. All truth is God's truth. We also know, as children of Christ's light, our response to this epidemic must go beyond – well beyond – what the world calls us to. Jesus answers the disciples, concerning the man born blind, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” When we shine the light of Christ on this viral epidemic, can we see how the works of God might be made visible? Jesus goes on to say, “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” It is still day. And we have the work of the one who sent us to do. Our work is to produce goodness and righteousness and truth. Healing, light, and the mercy and love of Christ Jesus!

Of course. Of course! But what do we do? First, we listen to Paul again, “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.” Do not panic. Do not be selfish. Do not indulge in hysteria. And do create fear. Second, all truth is God's truth. We listen to our medical experts, and we “flatten the curve.” IOW, we slow the spread of the virus by observing social-distancing and good hygiene. Third, in prayer and fasting, we offer this epidemic to God in sacrifice. We make it holy and turn it at every opportunity into an epidemic of giving God greater glory. The light of Christ is shining on the Church. Our first priory is not “safety.” That's corporate PR double-speak. Our first priory as the Body of Christ – always and everywhere – is the teaching and preaching of the freely offered mercy of God to sinners. Freedom from sin. Freedom from death. Our goal is not to protect “healthy bodies” but to produce holy persons – holy bodies with holy souls. Fourth, as children of the Light in Christ, we are fundamentally a priestly people, mediating and interceding for the salvation of the world. Absolutely, we pray for an end to this pandemic. No question. But we also pray this pandemic will make visible the works of God among us. We, you and I, make these works visible.

This is Laetare Sunday. Every year, midway through our Lenten trek, we are given a chance to rejoice. And it may seem out of place to rejoice during a time of plague. But rejoicing is exactly what we need to be doing. If this epidemic is a test of our resolve to make the works of God visible to the world, then what else can we do but rejoice? With our eyes firmly fixed on our goal in heaven, and while we live in this world, the only sane response to suffering and death is rejoicing. We will suffer. And we will die. We can deny, demure, struggle, and complain. We can philosophize and theologize and try our best to wiggle a way out. But. But. There is no avoiding suffering and death. The choice is btw suffering and dying in the dark, and remaining in the darkness forever. Or suffering and dying in the light, and living forever in the light of Christ. So. Rejoice! You are children in the light. Go and make visible the works of God while the day is still with us!
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15 March 2020

Panic is not a virtue

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

I got in trouble last week. I made the mistake of expressing an opinion about the coronavirus hysteria being whipped up by the Talking Heads on TV. Because I am half-Dominican and half-Vulcan, I am genetically incapable of panicking. Some of my Facebook friends are not so constituted. Thus, I was pilloried for allegedly encouraging people not to take precautions and told that I would be responsible for anyone in the future who becomes infected and dies. So much power should never be in the hands of one man! I tried to defend myself, but, alas, the frenzy had taken hold, and I was shouted down. Not the first time. Won't be the last. So, in light of this Lenten season and our faith in the resurrection at the end of the age, how do we choose to come face-to-face with sickness and death? That is, with what attitude do we confront our mortality? Anxiety? Fear? Disappointment? Relief? Paul writes to the Romans, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Christ, [...] and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts[...].” We look sickness and death in the eye. . .and we hope.

Some of you may have heard me just say that we look sickness and death in the eye and cross our fingers, hoping that we won't get sick and die. Or that we should just carry on as usual, throwing the dice and calling on Lady Luck to give us a winning streak of seven's. That's not what I said. What I said was that we must choose to look sickness and death in the eye through the theological virtue of hope, the infused good habit of desiring eternal life together with the expectation of obtaining it. For the follower of Christ, hope is never a gamble. Hope is never just a spin of the roulette wheel. Hope is what we are given by God to fuel our desire for Him, and our sure expectation that we will spend life eternal in His presence. We look over and above this world – it's failures, disappointments, illnesses, and deaths – and we fix our desiring-gaze on His glory. That's our end, our goal, our telos. That's where we truly belong, our supernatural home. Yes, we must live in the world with all its diseases and injuries. But these diseases and injuries do not define us. They cannot tell us who we are nor how we should pass from this life. “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts...” Our hearts brim to bursting with the Living Water of Christ Jesus! 
One of the more prominent goals of Lent is to prepare ourselves to be vessels for Christ's living water. Our first step is to say along with the Samaritan woman, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty.” In other words, the first step is for each one of us to ask Christ to pour into our hearts and minds everything we need to survive in this world and thrive in the next. Once we've asked, we receive. We open ourselves, in surrender, to the living water, the living spirit of Christ who wills for us our eternal salvation. If you think your sins prevent you from asking for this gift, think again. The Samaritan woman has six husbands! Christ doesn't condemn her. He doesn't congratulate her either. He looks into the depths of her soul and sees her searching for happiness, a happiness that only he and his Father can provide. Once she has recognized Jesus as the Messiah, she is able to go among the other Samaritans and proclaim the Good News that the long-awaited Savior has arrived. Our sins do not prevent Christ from offering us redemption, but they do prevent us from receiving all that he has to offer. Lent is our time to become the best possible vessels for receiving Christ's mercy and pouring it out for others. 
As our National Emergency continues, we, as followers of Christ have a duty to be ambassadors of hope. Not shills for panic and hysteria. With our hearts and minds firmly fix on our supernatural end, we do everything we can to become the best possible vessels for Christ's living waters. Take precautions. Pay attention to the medical experts. Limit personal interactions. But NEVER give in to the despair and desperation that infects those w/o hope. We are not tasked with spreading fear, anxiety, or chaos. We are tasked with being lights for the world. Now is your chance to show the world and one another what genuine, Christian hope looks like. As these Lenten days pass and things in the city get better. . .or worse. . .ask yourself: “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” For us, right now, that sounds like a rhetorical question. But as your hope wavers, it becomes The Question. And the answer is always: “YES!” He is with us always. So, look sickness, death, despair, desperation, and sin, look them square in the eye and hope. Hope like you've never hoped before, remembering that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

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08 March 2020

Grace conquers fear!

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

We all know that Lent is about prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. We know it's about “giving something up” for 40 days. Fish-frys on Friday. Getting ourselves ready for Easter. So, we're about ten days in, and it's normal to for us to wonder, how am I doing? But before we can answer that question, we need to think about how we are going to measure success and failure. The usual way to measure how we're doing would be to take stock of our fasting: am I keeping my Lenten promise not to eat chocolate or not to drink coffee or not to smoke or ____________? Another way might be to take stock of my prayer life. Am I praying more? Am I going to daily Mass like I said I would? In other words, we could measure success/failure with how well we are behaving, how well we are doing or not doing what we promised to do or not to do. Here's another way, perhaps a more mature way, to measure: am I bearing my share of hardship for the Gospel? Am I bearing this hardship with my own strength, or am I calling on the strength that God alone can provide?If you're trying bear your hardship w/o God, hear this command from Christ, “Rise! And do not be afraid!”

Fear is a great motivator for getting things done. Out of fear we can fast, pray, and give alms. We can give up most anything; pray longer, harder, and faster; and dig deep into our pockets. But fear is also a great destroyer of freedom. It's hard to argue that we're freely bearing our hardships for the Gospel if we are doing so b/c we are afraid of failure, or afraid of God, or afraid of Hell. Fear gets it done, but fear cannot get it done freely. And God wants our sacrifices to be truly given, freely offered. Not just handed over at the point of a threat but eagerly, voluntarily done for no other reason than we need to give God greater glory. And so, Christ commands us to “rise and do not be afraid.” Yes, he commands. Because sometimes we need to be ordered to do something so that we can see that what we are being ordered to do is nothing dangerous or painful, and actually for the best. Once we obey, the second, third, fourth time, we grow in holiness b/c we obey out of love and not fear. Paul writes, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.” Grace conquers fear. Grace turns our fearful obedience into true and worthy sacrifices. 
How we understand our sacrifices is vital to their effectiveness. First, your sacrifices do not “buy” you holiness. You are not purchasing amounts of holiness by giving up your favorite vices. Small sacrifices buy you small amounts of holiness, and bigger sacrifices buy you larger amounts of holiness. Second, you aren't changing God's mind about you by sacrificing your vices. You are not performing some kind of magical ritual that forces God to love you more b/c you abstain from a vice. Third, prayer and alms-giving during Lent aren't bribes to God to persuade Him not to be angry with you, nor are they goodies meant to entice Him to be happy with you. The very idea that anything we can do or say or think has the power to change God in any way is a pagan notion, and one we need to vigorously remove from our thinking. The pagan thinks in terms of appeasing the gods or bribing them into favorable action. The Christian knows that every good gift, every blessing, every grace he/she will ever receive has already been given. Our Lenten sacrifices make it possible for us to see more clearly all that God has given us and more easily receive what He has given. God makes our sacrifices true and worthy – not us.

If you are plowing through Lent fueled by fear, or just getting by on small doses of guilt, then hear the Lord one more time, “Rise! Do not be afraid!” Christ appears in glory to Peter, James, and John not to intimidate them but to reveal to them what a life lived in holiness and sacrifice will look like after death. He reveals the end, the goal of a Christian life – eternal life lived in the glory of God. Your Lenten sacrifices, both small and great, freely and joyfully given to God, take you further away from the world, further away from destructive attachments and distracting dramas, and into the hidden life of Christ. Fear cannot enter such a life. Because fear is rooted in ignorance, in not knowing. But we know. Christ shows us how it all ends. It all ends in glory. Shining like the sun, white as light. It all ends with God the Father proclaiming the Sonship of Jesus and endowing us with our inheritance. And our Lenten purification ends with the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. So, rise and do not be afraid. Pray. Fast. Give alms. And do so joyfully, gladly, eagerly. Sacrifice your fear and expect the glory of God!

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01 March 2020

The Devil with Jesus in the desert. . .

NB. Deacon is preaching at OLR this evening. Below is one of the first homilies I preached as a priest. It's an experimental piece that some found disturbing. . .

1st Sunday of Lent 2006
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

 I find him sitting with his back against a rock, staring at the heat waving above the dry-cracked river bed. He smells of hot cedar smoke, burnt bees’ wax, and drying sweat. When my shadow touches his bare feet, he moves them away and turns as if to look at me, then stops and stares again at the blistering sand. I wave my hand to greet him, my shadow again touching his feet and legs. This time he doesn’t move. It’s always the same with him. He knows I’m here. Right here with him. But he stubbornly ignores me or moves away at my dark touch. I take a deep breath, gather my silk robes around my legs to sit, and as I fall into place in front of him, he sighs and begins to pray aloud. Scratchy, mumbling nonsense. Groveling little bits of spontaneous poetry and half-remembered words and phrases stolen from thin, crumbling scrolls. I just listen and wait. Most days we sit together in silence like this, waiting on one another.

When the sun touches the tallest mountain, he stops muttering. The dry burn of the desert wind eases a bit. There’s a promise of wet air, of moisture from somewhere out of the north. I clear my throat. I see a small smile on his lips. Just as I open my mouth to argue again, wild beasts begin to gather near us. This happens every night about this time. And I am surprised again, always surprised, by the fierce brilliance of the crown of angels that seems to float miles away behind his head. Tensed to fight, they just hold there radiating His glory—a sky crowded with angelic mirrors flashing His beauty. How very servile of them to pose so. How very grand it all is. A perfect waste of power.

I catch him watching me watch his ministers. You see, he knows that I know that he won’t call them. He could. No doubt. But he won’t. It’s a matter to pride with him. That’s my secret weapon: his pride. He’s the favored Son. I’m the fallen Daystar. He’s the Anointed One. I’m the Marked One. He is Righteousness and I am Rebellion. And I’m here, again, to show him the error of his Way, to offer him something far better than a life wasted on dumb humility, unrequited love, and pointless sacrifice. I am here to tempt him away from his self-destructive path, away from the terrible, bloody death that those dirty little apes he loves so much will give him. I will show him riches, power, and his own pride. I will tempt him to resist me on his own, without those shiny angels coming to his rescue!

I gather myself for the show, for the theatre of the absurd that will surely wake him up to his desperate folly. But before I can collect myself fully, he starts to chuckle. Just a small laugh at first. Then he burst out with a deep guffaw! A belly laugh from the Son of God. I just stare at him. Surely the heat has driven him mad. He stops. And he opens his eyes, looking at me, through me, right to the center of the goodness that is my very existence. I fumble for an excuse, some reason to protest the invasion of my privacy, but I can only stare back at the fullness of beauty, goodness, and truth that He Is.

Without moving he says, “Perdition, you are here again to lie to me, to put between me and our Father a temptation. Do it then.” I swallow hard and plead, “My Lord, can’t you see that the course laid out for you is disastrous? Can’t you see the possibilities for us, the potential of our rule if you would turn to me for help? Can’t you see your ignominious end? The scandal of it!” He chuckles again, “You are worried about scandal? Try another one, Deceiver. Put yourself behind me so that I may go forward. You are dust and wind.” He gently waves his hand toward the cooling desert. I grow angry at his dismissal, “Wow! You really are stupidity itself, aren’t you. Wasted power, wasted opportunities.”

I sputter for a while longer, hoping that my indignity at his rudeness will move him to talk to me again. Nothing. I conjure images of wealth—jewels, fine horses, palaces. Nothing. I conjure images of power—a throne for the worlds, slaves, armies. Nothing. Finally, I conjure images of personal dignity—his freedom from the trails ahead, the esteem of his rabbinical colleagues, the love of the crowds cheering him. Nothing. Again, nothing.

I gird my silk robes, bracing myself for one final assault on this mulish Nazarene. I shout at him: “You’re proud! It’s pride that makes you think you are better than my gifts, too good to pick up what I give you. Pride!” He shifts his feet under him, rises to stand before me. He looks over my head as if reading a text behind me, “You are nothing, brother. Shapes, shadows, quick glimpses, and shallow sighs.” My indignity is unmatchable! “I am Lucifer, Morning Light! I am First Chosen of the Angels! I know who I am!” His eyes move to focus on mine. He squints against a finally setting sun, “I will teach you who you are. Fallen creature. Sinner. Liar. Killer of Hope. Tempter. I know your true names: Perdition. Chaos. Betrayal. You cannot win with me because I am driven here by the Spirit of our Father to fast and pray and to prepare myself for what I am about.”

Panicked, I reach for what I have, anything at all, and say, “They won’t love you for your sacrifice, you know? They will not come to you after you are betrayed and convicted, and sent into the dead ground. They will deny you. They will run and hide and waste time pointing fingers and accusing one another. I will make sure that they forget you.” If anything he looked calmer, “Yes, I suppose you will. But they like me will have their forty days in the desert, their time and place apart to burn away the excess, to trim the burdensome and ridiculous, to pray and serve, and to remember that they are dust—dust given life by our Father’s breath and made holy in His love for them.”

What arrogance! The man is insane. I have to ask, “You came into this dead waste to pray and serve and to remember that you are dust? You? The favored Son? The Messiah? You fled to this place? Why? Why would you do such a stupid thing?” Again, he smiles slightly at me, at my vehemence, and says, “I will teach you again, Satan. I am in this desert for forty days to remember the journey of Moses and his people out of slavery. I am in this desert for forty days to teach those to come how to live with our Father. I am here to survive with Him alone, to live stripped of pretense, theatre, guile, and luxurious want. I am here so that those whom you will tempt tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow will know that they need only to call upon the Father’s mercy, to repent, believe the gospel, and then know that they are free of you forever.” His eyes blaze for a moment, then calm again.

I give up! My time with him is up anyway. My time with him is wasted breath. You, you however, well, you’re just beginning, aren’t you? What, day five or six, now, of the forty? Come, let me show you to my favorite rock and the riches I can offer you. Let me show you my toys, my little inventions, and help you choose a Way more to my…I mean…your liking.

So tell me, little ones, what tempts you?

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23 February 2020

Be perfect. . .follow Christ!

Audio File

7th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Anthony/OLR, NOLA

It seems an impossible task: to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Not only does this task seem impossible in practice, but it's not entirely clear what the task actually is or how we are to achieve it. The Lord tells Moses to give His people this message: “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” Is the Father's perfection also His holiness? Yes, if by holiness we mean “set-apartness,” “totally other than.” We say that God is both imminent in His creation and wholly transcendent of it. Both in and totally beyond all that He has created and holds in being. If we are to be perfect/holy as the Father is perfect/holy, then we too must be in the world and totally beyond it. We live and move and have our being in God. That's how we transcend the world. We also live and move and have our being in the world. And this is where things get complicated. As followers of Christ, we are given the mission of living in the world and at the same time not being ruled by the world. Our king, our ruler is Christ. Our kingdom, our citizenship is in heaven. So, how do we become perfect as the Father is perfect? 
St. Paul gives us some direction. He writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This sounds familiar. It should. We've heard it all our lives. But in Paul's day, it was a radical claim. Temples were large, stone structures that housed the gods. Prayer, music, sacrifice would bring the spirit of the gods into the building to receive their followers' worship. Even the Jews had a temple where the spirit of the Lord would descend once a year to commune with the High Priest. For Paul to teach that every baptized person is a living, breathing temple capable of housing the spirit of the Lord – that is outrageous! That would mean that every baptized person is a priest capable of offering sacrifice! That they are all empowered to commune directly with God! That they can intercede for one another! That each and every baptized person is established as a holy site, a place of encounter with the divine. And all of this is true. You and I are living, breathing temples of the Holy Spirit; living, breathing tabernacles of the Body and Blood of Christ, sent out into the world to bear witness to the Father's freely given mercy to sinners. To be perfect as the Father is perfect is to be Christ for others in the world.

So, what does this look like in practice? Again, Paul has part of the answer. He writes, “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.” The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. God's wisdom comes with being set apart from the world. Not necessarily in a cave or a monastery or mountain cabin. Our set-apartness must exist in the world. Jesus challenges us to go beyond the Law to the foundations of the Law and take a radical step into sacrificial love. You love those who love you. So what? Even the pagans do that! Instead, love your enemies. You pray for your family members and friends. So what? Even the pagans do that! Instead, pray for those who persecute you. To be set apart from the world we cannot allow the world to rule our hearts and minds. How the pagans choose to think, feel, and act is their business and none of ours. They may hate their brothers and sisters. Seek revenge. Cherish grudges. Refuse help to the poor and sick. Worship whatever gods make them feel good. Christ fulfills the Law by revealing its soul, and its soul of the Law is love. We begin in holiness by setting ourselves apart in Christ, by consecrating ourselves in his sacrifice. We cannot achieve the holiness God wants for us by imitating the fads and fashions of our pagan neighbors.
As we rapidly approach Lent, it seems fitting to repeat Paul's warning to the corrupt church in Corinth: “Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. . .” Take that warning with this assurance: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Christ fulfilled the Law by revealing the soul of the Law: divine love. He shows us the power of sacrificial love from the Cross, defeating sin and death by rising from the tomb, and bringing us all to the way of perfection. You are a living temple of the living God and your run toward holiness begins by following Christ. Not the dominant culture. Not your pagan neighbors. Not a political party. But Christ. Follow Christ. And become a living, breathing temple of the Holy Spirit, a fool in the eyes of the world.

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09 February 2020

Stay Salty!

Audio File

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Who can restore your love for Christ if you lose it? If salt can lose its power to season, what is there to season the salt? What brings flavorless salt back to life? What Jesus is asking here is this: who can bring faith back to a disciple if he/she loses it? Each of the original disciples was personally chosen by Christ. He's taught them his secrets. He gave them the means to interpret his parables. He made Peter his steward, giving him the keys to the kingdom. The disciples have lived with Jesus; eaten with him; fled the crowds with him; nearly drowned with him. They've seen every healing miracle, every wonder he's performed. They met with him privately many times and questioned him many more. If there are any saltier in the faith than these men, we don't know who they are! If they lose faith, if they succumb to despair or anxiety, or fall prey to false teaching, who will bring them back to the Way? Jesus is urging his disciples (and us) to remain pure in their faith, to remain zealous in their preaching and to preserve the truth of his teachings. They cannot fail b/c there is no one who can restore the purity of their love for Christ. 
[Omitted in the audio] In the ancient world, salt represented purity. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul insists on the purity of his preaching. He reminds the Church in Corinth that he came to them to preach Christ and him crucified. He came to them with the power of the Spirit and not with “the sublimity of words or of wisdom.” He preached out of what later saints would come to call “holy ignorance,” that is, a total reliance on the Spirit of God to provide the wisdom necessary to preach His truth. As a source of wisdom, Paul knowingly sets aside his training as a philosopher; his experience as a public speaker; and his extensive knowledge of the Law. He uses all of these to convey God's wisdom but none are the source of this wisdom. None reveal the mystery of God. None help him to receive all that God has to show him. God alone reveals His mystery. To the world, Paul is ignorant. For the Church, for us, he is salt and light. His preaching purifies, preserves, and enlightens the mystery we all participate in right now and hope to live with forever. Lest anyone misunderstand, Paul is not advocating an anti-intellectual faith, a sort of “blind faith” that shies away from education or the use of human reason. When Paul writes that he preaches “Christ and him crucified,” he means that he's grounding his testimony in the historical death and resurrection of the man Jesus. He is not arguing his way to belief with logic and rhetoric. He is not emoting his way to faith. He is not experimenting his way to God in a lab. The wisdom Paul preaches is God Himself revealed in Christ crucified.

When Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he is reminding them that they have witnessed God's Self-revelation in his own life and works. After the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, they will remember – even as we do today – that when they saw and heard and followed Christ, they saw and heard and followed God Himself. They remember – even as we do today – because the Spirit of God comes upon them, surpassing all human understanding, and overwhelms them with His recreating love. Like salt sown to purify and light shone to pierce the darkness, they go out preaching, offering testimony, healing the sick, freeing the captive, and feeding the hungry – even as we do today. Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “. . .your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Our good deeds, done in imitation of Christ, are done so that others might come to glorify the Father. We help others pay their light bills in order to glorify God. We donate food, clothing, and toys in order to glorify God. We build and repair homes in order to glorify God. And when we do these things, God's light shines through us and we remain, as Christ commands, salty.

HOW we are tempted to dilute our flavor and dim our lights may have changed in two millennia, but WHAT tempts us is no different. The Corinthians suffered from what Paul calls “itchy ears.” They wanted to hear what they wanted to hear. They wanted complex theologies and elaborate philosophies. They wanted logical arguments and scientific proofs. They wanted eloquence and what passed for wisdom among the pagans. Don't we, in our own way, want these too? How much do we rely on the world's wisdom for our moral choices? Do we accept as normal our culture's worship of the Self? The use of violence to solve our problems? How much do we depend on technology to maintain our personal relationships? Do we allow caffeine, nicotine, amphetamine, alcohol to rule our moods? My point here is not to scold or blame but rather to show that we are as tempted now as the ancient Corinthians were to set aside the most fundamental truth God has given us: His love in Christ Jesus. We are tempted in ways that the Corinthians could never imagine: TV, internet, cell phones, credit cards, self-help psychobabble. But the temptation itself remains unchanged: replace God as the center of your life with something or someone else, anything or anyone else. Make a created thing your god. If and when this happens, you lose your saltiness; your light dims. . .and your love of Christ fades. 

In weakness, with fear and much trembling, go out into the world, wherever you find yourself and preach – in word, deed, thought – preach Christ and him crucified. Shine the light Christ has given you. And give all glory to God the Father! The brighter you shine for others, the more of His mystery you will illuminate and the more you will truly see.

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26 January 2020

The Kingdom is at hand!

3rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The King Cakes are baked. The beads and doubloons are collected and ready to throw. The parades are parading already. Mardi Gras is in full-swing. Exactly one month from today we will be smudged with ash and reminded that we come from dust and to dust we will return. Then, 40 days of Lent. Forty days of fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. We know the drill: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is Jesus' cry to the people. It's his cry to us. How do we hear his cry? We could hear it as an oft-repeated churchy cliché. We could hear it as a piece of history, a slogan long-past its expiration date. It could be a warning, a prophecy, a threat, or all of the above. How do you hear it? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I hear it as an invitation, as a sort of seductive suggestion, one that entices me back onto the straight and narrow, back to the glorious adventure of growing in holiness. Mardi Gras takes us into the world to remind us that we are flesh and blood – eating, drinking, dancing. Jesus' cry for repentance brings to mind again the truth that we are more than flesh and blood; the truth that we are made for heaven. Never forget: the Kingdom of God is at hand.
As followers of Christ, we live with a certain weirdness. Several weirdnesses, in fact. But the most difficult to grasp is the weirdness of what it means to live as if we were already in heaven. The big theological phrase for this notion is living eschatologically, living in this world during this time as if the Kingdom of God is complete, as if we have already reached our supernatural end in Christ. Of course, we haven't reach that end – not while body and soul are still united – but when we strive for holiness we are doing so towards that end, towards the perfection that will see us complete in Christ. Jesus announces that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Is at hand. Meaning right here and now within reach, close enough to grasp and hold if only we will. Your cell phone is at hand. Your car keys are at hand. The missalettes in the pews are at hand. There they all are. . .ready to be grasped and held. So is the Kingdom of Heaven. If the kingdom is so close, why don't we reach and grasp? Part of the answer is: sin. . .sin clouds the eyes and ears, preventing us for seeing and hearing the Word spoken to us by Christ. Thus, the Lord prefaces his announcement of the Kingdom with the invitation, “Repent.” Turn away from sin and see and hear how close the Kingdom really is.

Now, I know all this talk of repentance from sin sounds terribly old-fashioned, so pre-VC2 and all that. The thought of it might be enough to give you the willies, or maybe even keep you away from OLR Masses in the future. But please understand a simple truth: in the spiritual life of the Christian there is literally nothing easier to do than repent. Why do I say that? Easy. B/c God wants us to return to Him when we stray. He wants us to grow in holiness and thrive as His sons and daughters. He wants this so much that He gives us everything we need to recognize sin, to confess, to repent, and to come home again. He leaves nothing out. All we have to bring to the table is our desire for holiness (which is also a gift from Him) and our will to repent, our choice to turn away from sin and receive His mercy. This simple act brings into sharper focus the Kingdom as it is unfolding before us. With gratitude and humility added to the mix we have the perfect formula for continuing along the straight and narrow path. So, repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It's right there in front of your eyes!

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Will you be the Word of God?

NB. This is a "children's Mass."

3rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Anthony's Church, NOLA

The Word of God reveals to us more than just the history of our faith – the stories of the prophets, the heroes of the OT, the life of Christ. The Word of God is more than a collection of wise sayings and calls to righteousness. When we use the phrase “the Word of God” we are saying a number of different things all at the same time. We're saying “the Bible.” We're saying “the Son of God.” We're saying “Christ Jesus.” We're saying “the living Church.” In fact, as followers of Christ, baptized with water and confirmed in the Spirit, we are also saying “us.” Yes, we too are the Word of God sent out into the world to be Christ for others. In the beginning God the Father breathed with the Spirit one word – Christ – over the void and all things that are came to be. We are – down to the molecular level – participants in the Divine Word, who is life and life eternal. When we hear the scripture read at Mass, we listen to God's voice. When we hear the Mass prayed, we listen to God's voice. When we do all that we ought as followers of Christ, we listen to God's voice, and we rejoice b/c who we are rings true when we turn from sin and live in His Kingdom. 
Jesus begin his preaching with a simple call: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This probably sounds like a churchy cliché to you, or maybe a threat – “Turn or burn!” But it's actually an invitation, an invitation to return to God and participate fully in His kingdom. We're not to Lent just yet – we have exactly one month from today – but the need for repentance is never far off. Repenting of our sins can seem a bit old-fashioned, maybe even a little scary but there is nothing easier. Everything we need to return to God is given to us by God. He helps us turn b/c He wants us to return to Him. We need to return b/c we are not whole without Him. This is why He has given us His Word – in the scriptures, in His Son, in the sacraments, and in His Church. . .us. And b/c we exist as both sinners and saints we sometimes have difficult lives. When we stray as sinners, we lose our way and the darkness makes it hard to find our way home. But when we are saints, the world constantly tempts us off the narrow way, and we struggle to find His peace. BUT if we listen, listen carefully, His Word will speak to us and guide us back to Him. We all have great teachers in our lives, people to show us how to listen to God. Our parents, our grandparents, our school teachers, our priests and deacons and religious. And most importantly, God's saints! They know Him personally, and they want to do everything they can to keep us on the narrow path. 
We are celebrating Mardi Gras right now – King Cakes, beads, doubloons, parades – all the stuff that makes our hometown of New Orleans famous all over the world. This is a time for us to celebrate with our family and friends, and it is also a time for us to remember that God made us – flesh and blood – to live in this world. But He also made us live with Him in heaven. Whether or not come to live with Him in heaven is our choice. He gives us everything we can possibly need to make the right choice. So, when Jesus says, “Repent,” he's telling us to look carefully and closely inside and, if we need to, turn away from sin and return to him. We are – each one of us – a word of God sent into the world to become Christ for others. So, I ask you: will you be Christ for your family and friends? Will you be Christ for those who do not yet know him? Will you choose to the loudest, brightest, most colorful Word of God you can be? You have everything you need! Go! Be Christ and speak his Word!

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19 January 2020

Be holy!

2nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

If you feel that things are tumbling out of control, that things are spinning apart faster than they used to; that what was true yesterday is now false; what was good and beautiful last week is now ugly and evil; that nothing we say or do seems to stop the wrecking of this roller-coaster we call daily life. . .welcome to the club. For the older folks like me, we've been watching this flaming circus for some time now. The younger folks have never known anything but the gleeful destruction of truth, goodness, and beauty by our Cultural Betters. We can blame the Sexual Revolution of the 60's; the horrors of the WW's and Vietnam; we can blame Obama and/or Trump, the Marxists and/or the Nationalists; why not blame “climate change” or social media and the internet, or blame those dodgy NFL refs? Doesn't matter who we blame. What matters – the only thing that matters – is what we, the followers of Christ, do while the wheels fly off this merry-go-round. Paul reminds the church in Corinth and the church in NOLA that we have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy. That's what we do: be holy. And we do that by knowing Christ.

We need to make an important distinction here. There's knowing about Christ and there's knowing Christ. We all know lots of stuff about Christ. Historical facts. Mary, his mother. Joseph, his father. Born in Bethlehem. Crucified at 33yo by Pontius Pilate. We know facts. BUT do we know him? Do you know him? This question tends to make Catholics a little uncomfortable b/c it sounds Protestant – all that “having a personal relationship with the Lord and Savior” stuff. But our Protestant brothers and sisters don't enjoy a monopoly on having a person-to-person relationship with Christ. Where they tend to describe that relationship in purely emotional terms, we tend to talk in terms of sacrament, of liturgy. What can possibly be more person, more person-to-person than taking into your own body the body and blood of Christ? What can more personal, more person-to-person than meeting Christ in the confessional and having your sins absolved? But even these sacramental meetings with the Lord can become routine, stale, and haphazard over time, leaving you and me with what seems like a merely ritualistic relationship with the One who saves us. We need to come to know Christ so that our meetings with him always lead to our growth in holiness.

I said earlier that our job as followers of Christ during this tumultuous time is to be holy. Being holy includes being morally good but it's not limited to moral goodness. Scripturally, holiness entails “set apartness;” to be readily distinguishable from the world in word and deed; to be identifiable as belonging to Christ and not to the world. Think of this way: if one of those reality TV shows followed you around 24/7 for a week, would the footage reveal you to be a follower of Christ? Could an audience point out those times that you revealed Christ to others? Those times that you defied the world and choose Christ? Those times that you visibly loved, forgave, showed mercy, healed, and stood up for truth? OR would the footage reveal just another middle-class American doing nothing more than what all the other middle-class Americans do day-in and day-out? I described our world as a burning circus and a teetering merry-go-round. Our job isn't to fix the world. Or to put out the fire. We couldn't if we wanted to. Our job is to be holy, to be set aside for the preaching and the teaching of the Good News. To offer to those who are exhausted by sin and death the freely given mercy of God. We are the anchors, the strong points, the life-preservers for anyone who's dizzy enough to want to jump off the carousel. 
Now, you might be thinking: “Father, I'm not stable enough in my own faith to be offering help to anyone else!” Maybe not. But have you considered the possibility that your faith would be strengthen by offering to help someone in trouble? If you wait until your faith is good enough to be of help, you'll be standing in front of Father in heaven. Your imperfect faith can add to the imperfect faith of another and create a faithful bond that strengthens you both. How do you come to know Christ? You find him in others. Each one of us imperfectly participates in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but we all participate in slightly different ways. Those billions of differences snap together like jigsaw pieces and create a more perfect Christ here on earth. But you and I must be willing to find one another in Christ and be the anchor for others. Holiness is contagious. Like fire, it spreads and consumes. It burns away falsehood and reveals the raw truth underneath. The Lord promises us, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” It's time for you to become that light.
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13 January 2020

Fishing can be disappointing

1st Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Dave Barry, a comedian and columnist, says of fishing, “[It's] boring, unless you catch an actual fish, and then it is disgusting.” All wet gills, slime, and lidless eyeballs. I couldn't agree more. Besides being disgusting, fishing requires the one virtue that eludes me like a Weight Watchers coupon: patience. Like hunting and shopping (which is just the indoor version of hunting), fishing tests one's ability to sit still, concentrate, and suffer disappointment. . .repeatedly. I have enough self-inflicted disappointments in my life without going around trying to find more. So, when Jesus tells Simon, Andrew, James, and all of us – “Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men” – my first thought is, “Who needs that kind of disappointment?” I might've asked the Lord, “Lord, could you make me a teacher of men, or a spiritual director, or something like that?” Unfortunately, for those of us with little patience, we're fishermen. Fishermen of men. Fishing for souls can be boring, disappointing, even disgusting work. But. . .it's the work we are called to do and it's the work we all have vowed to do. “This is the time of fulfillment.The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” 
Lest you think I am casting aspersions on my vocation, allow me to clarify: my lack of patience in the holy work of fishing for souls is my principle fault. The Lord provides daily opportunities for me to practice patience, and I'm getting better. Without my vocation as a Dominican friar , I would've exploded (probably literally) years ago. What the Lord sees in Simon, Andrew, James, in me, and in you is the potential to be a world champion fisherman. Despite our failures, our frustrations; our many, many excuses and attempts to minimize our gifts, the Lord sees clearly that we have everything it takes to be great fishermen. Some of us have the patience to sit quietly for hours, bobbing tackle, bait, and hook in the water, waiting for a bite. Maybe just one bite in a lifetime of fishing. Others – like me – are tempted to dynamite the lake and drag the stunned fish into the boat before they recover. Ah ha! Too late! You belong to Jesus now! Whether we bait a hook or light a fuse, we do the work of the Lord when we follow him. This life in Christ isn't about comfort, clarity, or convenience. It's about the often disgusting, disappointing, and even boring work of leading others to his mercy. Even as we ourselves depend on that mercy. So, practice patience when you fish for souls. After all, someone fished your soul out of the muck. “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

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05 January 2020

Why give gifts?

NB: deacons preached today. . .this one is from 2019. 

The Epiphany of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Gift-giving in my family during the holidays is ever the practical art. Rarely do any of us receive sentimental gifts or anything merely decorative. We get “what we need.” I'm the easiest to shop for. CASH. Always the right color. One size fits all. Another example, over the years, my dad has given Mom as Christmas gifts – renovated bathrooms; fiber-cement siding for the house; and demolished a fireplace they never used. Mom was always genuinely delighted with these gifts. Had the three magi showed up in Mississippi and given Mom frankincense, gold, and myrrh she would've thanked them politely and then found a way to sell the stuff so she could replace her washer and dryer. Now, there's nothing particularly wrong with giving practical gifts. Gifts tell us something important about both the gift-giver and the gift-recipient. We know that the magi give the Christ Child frankincense, gold, and myrrh b/c they recognize him as the newly born King of the nations. Their treasures, and their homage tell us that they see him for who he is: the universal Savior. When we give our gifts to Christ we are also recognizing him as our Savior. But here's the thing: we belong to Christ. Everything we have already belongs to Christ. So, what's the point in giving him gifts? Gift-giving unveils the mystery of salvation.

Bear with me here. Paul explains to the Ephesians what the Magi's visit to the Christ Child means: “. . .the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” That is, when we hear and receive the gift of the gospel – given to us by Christ and his apostles – we become members of the Body, the Church, and coheirs to the Kingdom. With the birth of Christ, salvation is no longer exclusive to the Father's chosen people, the Jews. Everyone else – the Gentiles – can now be part of the family of God too. God's family is catholic (universal) b/c the Magi (who were Gentiles) paid homage to Christ and gave him the gifts that a king would receive. This is the epiphany we celebrate this morning, the revelation that anyone and everyone can be a coheir to the Kingdom. The gifts of the Magi unveil the mystery of Christ's sacrifice – his own gift to us – and make manifest the truth that no one is excluded from the possibility of redemption. If you will to be a coheir, you will be a coheir. Christ's gift from the cross and the empty tomb is the primordial gift of re-creation – we can be made new in him.

So, what does any of this have to do with giving gifts to Christ? If Christ's gift to us is the primordial gift of re-creation, then – as new men and women in Christ – everything we are and everything we have belongs to him. When we return our gifts to Christ – the much mentioned time, talent, and treasure – we participate in a holy exchange that expresses our gratitude, deepens our humility, and prepares us to better receive those gifts from God we have yet to receive. In other words, we become pipelines that pump God's love and mercy into the world, unveiling again and again and again the mystery of salvation: anyone and everyone can be a coheir to the Kingdom. Our faith is essentially an exchange of gifts – a cycle of giving, receiving, expressing thanksgiving, growing in humility, being ready to receive more and more gifts from God, and all the while freely giving His gifts away so that His Christ might be better known to the whole world!

The lesson of the Magi and their epiphany reveals to us how we can renew the Church, bring her back from exile as a glorious nation of priests, prophets, and kings. To the degree that we have grown comfortable and complacent, we must once again become anxious for the salvation of souls. To the degree that we have grown mean and stingy with our gifts, we must once again become generous. To the degree that we have grown distant from God, apathetic toward sin, and proud of our religiosity, we must grow in gratitude and humility, acknowledging our faults and freely receiving God's mercy. The Church will be brought out of exile one soul at a time. The Magi show us the way. Bring gifts to Christ. Pay him homage. Give yourself in the world as a grace, a witness to the One Gift of Christ's love from the cross.

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02 January 2020

Death has a job to do

Funeral: Fr. Dan Shanahan, OP
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

While we live, death has a job to do – an unpleasant but necessary task: to keep front and center in our minds the hard truth that the when and where of our living has a limit. We come into the world – body and soul – at a particular time and a particular place. We live for a number of years, moving toward our end: the natural limit of our time. At the appointed moment, the soul separates from the body and goes on to its judgment. For those of us left behind – the still living – death calls us together then to remember. And if those left behind are followers of Christ, death demands that we do more than merely remember the dead. We are to pray for them; more specifically, we are pray for them in the hope of the resurrection. Jesus answers his opponents, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” On December 21, 2019, here at OLW, Fr. Dan Shanahan, 85yo, and 56yrs a Dominican friar, passed from life to death. We are here to pray that he will come to rest in the Lord. As followers of Christ, we pray in the hope of the resurrection that he will find his end: life eternal.

Well, death has done its job. Here we all are. Gathered together to remember a brother, to pray for him, and to set firmly in our hearts and minds the witness he bore to Christ's mercy while he lived. Dan has taken on a new ministry, the strange ministry of the dead to the living. Though he is absent from our daily lives, he is always present in our lives of prayer. We won't see Dan at table ever again. Nor hear him sing the Cream of Wheat commercial jingle. Nor listen to him recite one of his favorite soliloquies from Shakespeare. We will, however, know that he is with us when we pray. He heard the Word of God and he believed in the One who sent the Christ into the world. Knowing this, each time we pray, Dan bears witness, reminding us that there is a limit to the when and where of our living. Reminding us to look beyond the “witchery of paltry things that obscure what is right” and find our purpose, our telos, in the doing of God's will, in the doing of all that we vowed to do at baptism. 
Paul asks the Romans the question every Christian should be asked at every funeral: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” When we speak of the dead we often say, “He has passed” or “She passed peacefully.” We mean “passed from life to death.” But the Christian has already died in baptism. So, in one sense, a Christian cannot die. What is dead cannot die again. In another, a Christian cannot die b/c he has has been reborn to eternal life, rising from the waters of baptism a new creation, a creature who shares in the Divine Life of Christ. Just as we rose from baptism as new men and women, so we hope to rise again from our passing from this world, placing our faith and love in the hands of the Just Judge to see us brought to the wedding feast. We lift our brother Dan before the throne of God and pray that on the last day he comes fully into the light. And we earnestly pray that we will be standing next to him, looking into the face of the God he served, and say along with him, “Marvelous!”*

*This is the only word Fr. Dan would say in the last two years of his life. 

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