10 February 2019

Leave it behind and put out into the deep!

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Christ says to his Church, “Put out into the deep!” Get out there and risk it! What do we do? Do we obey? Or do we find excuses not to? We could, like Isaiah, spend a lot of time and energy nursing our sins, crying over our failures, and raising these up to God as excuses for our unwillingness to go out into the world as apostles for the Good News. How can we bear witness to God's mercy when we ourselves are so dirty with sin? Or, we could, like Paul, see ourselves as “abnormally born,” that is, brought into the family of God from another church or another faith, and then claim that our unusual entrance into Christ's body disqualifies us from being proper preachers of the Gospel. I'm a convert, what can I do for the Church? Or, we could, like Simon Peter, live as weary unbelievers, ever doubtful of Christ's power, and then ashamed of our unbelief when he shows us what he can do. I've denied Christ too many times, I'm unworthy of serving him as an apostle! We could refuse, deny, demur, disbelieve, and beat ourselves up. But Christ says, “Do not be afraid! Leave everything and follow me.” Leave doubt, leave self, leave sin, leave the past. Leave it all. . .and follow me.

Isaiah leaves his history of sin behind when the seraphim purges his mouth with the ember from God's altar. Paul leaves his history of vengeful persecution of the Church behind when Christ appears to him on the Damascus Road. Simon Peter leaves his long and stubborn history of faithlessness and betrayal behind when he is consumed in the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Isaiah hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Purged of his sin, Isaiah shouts like a schoolboy, “Here I am, send me!” Paul sheds the scales from his eyes and receives his commission to bring the Good News to the Gentiles, confessing, “. . .by the grace of God I am what I am.” And Simon Peter, upon seeing the haul in his fishing nets, confesses his unbelief, and receives from Christ himself a heart grown strong enough to receive the love of the Holy Spirit. Each man abandoned his history of disobedience; each leaves behind every obstacle, every trial, every excuse; and each follows the Lord in His will to become prophetic and preaching legends for God's people. They put out into the deep, and brought to the Lord a great haul of souls.

Time and physical distance do not limit Christ. His words to Peter on the boat are spoken directly to us, each one of us: “Put out into the deep. . .do not be afraid.” As this world grows older and its spiritual and moral foundations become more and more fragile, our hold on things true, good, and beautiful seems to grow more and more precarious. We don't need to recite the litany of sins our culture of death revels in. It's the same list Isaiah, Paul, and Peter knew so well. It's the same list that ancient Israel and Judah knew. It's the same list the serpent wrote in the Garden and the same list men have been carrying around for millennia. That list tells us how to degrade and destroy the dignity of the human person, the image and likeness of God that each one us shares in, the imago Dei that makes us perfectable in Christ. It is the mission of the Enemy to tempt us into racial suicide, to kill ourselves as the human race by separating ourselves – one soul at a time – from our inheritance in the Kingdom. The Deep that we are commanded to evangelize is at once both the individual human heart and the whole human community. And lurking in that Deepness is both Eden's serpent and Christ's cross, both the voice of rebellion against God and the instrument of sacrifice for God. As we choose, hear Christ Jesus say again, “Do not be afraid.”

Whether we find the serpent or the cross or both dwelling in the Deep, we must not be afraid. The serpent was defeated the moment he chose to rebel. Sin and death were crushed from eternity before the first human walked upright. So, we can meet the serpent without fear. We can also meet the cross without fear b/c it is through the cross that the serpent is defeated. When we put out into the Deep of the human heart and the human community, there is nothing there for us to fear. Our job is a simple one: fish. Cast nets with service, humility, mercy, and joy. Bait our hooks with all the gifts we have been given to use for the greater glory of God. Leave behind bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and wrath. Follow Christ in strength, persistence, faithfulness, gladness, and sacrifice. Leave behind worry, doubt, fear, and hostility. Follow Christ in thanksgiving, rejoicing, praise, and courage. Now is not the time for cowardice. Now is not the time for waffling or compromise. We have our orders: put out into the deep! Risk, challenge, venture out. Hold fast to Peter's boat and cast your net wide and deep. Isaiah, Paul, and Peter made their excuses before God. He smiled and made them into prophets and preachers. So, go ahead: make your excuses. And watch God do His marvelous work through you.

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03 February 2019

The Gospel is worth a riot or two

4th Sunday OT (C)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Jesus causes a riot. I don't think he wanted to cause a riot, but he must've known that his announcement in the synagogue would make people angry. He does it anyway. He tells the synagogue-goers that Isaiah's prophecy of the coming of the Messiah “has been fulfilled in your hearing,” meaning: he is proclaiming himself to be the Messiah. Some are amazed. They speak highly of him. His words are gracious, grace-filled, they say. Then they begin to question. They question his credibility. His authority. His family. They want to know just who he thinks he is. At this point, if Jesus were a 21st c. politician or CEO, he would immediately hire a P.R. firm, issue a non-apology apology, donate money to an orphanage, and check himself into rehab. But Jesus is not a politician. He's the Messiah. And so, he causes a riot. Basically, he scolds the doubters by comparing them to the people who refused to believe God's prophets, Elijah and Elisha, leaving only the pagans to place their faith in Abraham's God. The angry crowd chases Jesus to a cliff so they might hurl him headlong to his death. The lesson here: the truth will set you free. . .and probably get you tossed off a mountain. But tell it anyway.

Now, we know that Jesus wasn't tossed off the mountain. He “passed through the midst of them and went away.” The question I have is this: why did he announce his mission and ministry in this way? In the middle of Sabbath services at a synagogue? He just sort of blurts it out! He could've done it more gently, more “professionally.” I don't know, maybe start small with a few close friends and let the word spread in its own time. Let people get used to the idea. Expand slowly to make sure that only those who truly believed in him would be admitted into the Church. Instead he does the one thing that any sensible consultant would tell him is guaranteed to make people angry – he proclaims the truth boldly, clearly, and in public. And sure enough, people get mad. They get mad b/c the truth hurts AND b/c the one proclaiming the truth is someone they know – a prophet come home to find that he is not honored as a prophet. Does this bit of inconvenience stop him? No. He does what prophets do. He proclaims God's truth. And he stings the conscience of those who refuse to believe. Their faith is smaller than that of the pagans who believed Elijah and Elisha. And they know it!

Proclaiming the truth of the Gospel – in season and out – is no easy thing. We, as good law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, are trained not to cause trouble. Not to rock any boats we might be on. Not to stir the pot. Or otherwise say or do anything that might offend. Good, middle-class manners keep us connected in the neighborhood, at work, and at school. We keep the family peaceful, friends friendly, and co-workers working with us by minimizing points of difference and maximizing points of similarity. This is basic human nature. We are tribal animals in many ways. We want/need to belong to the group – for safety, community, even survival. The earliest Christian churches around the Mediterranean were persecuted precisely b/c they refused to be part of the larger pagan culture. They lived differently. They married for life. One man, one woman. They did not kill their unwanted children. They went out of their way to help the poor, the disabled, the abandoned, and the sick. They forgave those who persecuted them. And they worshiped just one God. All of this made them outcasts in their own nations. And it is quickly making us outcasts even now. 
This is where you might expect me to grouse about the declining morals of a great nation, or lament at how poorly Christians are being treated by the culture. Nope. Not gonna do that! Instead, I'm going to point you back to Jesus in the synagogue and say, “Do as he did.” Tell the truth – the Gospel Truth – and tell it with boldness and clarity. There is nothing to be afraid of. Nothing permanent, anyway. Christ promises his followers persecution. If you declare for him, follow him, and take on his mission and ministry as you own, then you are asking to be opposed by the world. So, don't be surprised when the world opposes you. Don't be surprised when the rioters form and start looking for a handy cliff to fling you from. Just do what Jesus did: tell the truth in love. Veritas in caritate. Truth in love. Yes, you will likely be questioned: Who are you to judge me? Everyone accepts [insert sin here] as a good thing! What's wrong with you? Why are you trying to take away my rights? Etc., ad. nau. Truth in love. Truth in love. You're not trying to win an argument, or trying to scores points against an opponent. You're bearing witness as a sinner to the freely offered mercy of the Father through Christ. Surely, that's worth a small riot or two. . .

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20 January 2019

From Water to Wine, Christ is our Savior

2nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The miracle at Cana tells us a lot about Jesus and Mary. That he is an obedient son, and that she is a generous guest. That he is well-aware of who and what he is – the Messiah. And that she knows this too. This miracle also tells us something about who and what we are, or who and what we can become. In fact, every miracle Christ performs to demonstrate his identity and mission can tell us something about who and what we are as his followers. If we follow Christ, then we participate in his identity and mission, making us, each one of us, a Christ. Now, I'm not saying that we can all go out and perform miracles. Or that we can all yell at random people on the street and initiate them into the Church. What I am saying is that when we faithfully follow Christ, we grow in holiness and become more and more perfect in how we love. This means that as we grow in the perfection of Christ, we ourselves are better able to help others go from the waters of baptism to the wine/blood of the Eucharist. How do we do this? How do we – imperfect as we are – help someone else to faithfully follow Christ? We have to be more than students of Jesus, the teacher. We must see him as our Savior.

That move from being devoted to Jesus as a holy teacher to following him as a Savior is a big move. It's the difference btw being a student of a great teacher and being a fellow-worker eager to share both his glory and his trials. I think most of us can say that we're ready to follow Christ. In theory, the whole scenario looks good, even healthy: repentance, forgiveness, penance, love, mercy, hope, good works, all tied together in the sacraments and supported by a vibrant religious culture. Think about the disciples. They have to make this same move. But their circumstances were very different. They are Jewish heretics. Their religious culture sees them as unclean, separated from family and friends,. Thus they are nearly overwhelmed when the ascended Christ sends the Holy Spirit among them at Pentecost, flooding each one of them with His fire for spreading the Word. In their darkest hour, they are given Divine Love, unmediated by law or prophets, undiluted by age or tradition. We are given this same Love: the Spirit to believe, trust, love, show mercy, do good works, to repent, and grow in righteousness. Like the disciples, we too come to believe that Jesus is the Savior and we show our faith in word and deed.

Our challenge as faithful followers of Christ becomes clearer and clearer every day. It's not our mission to defeat the world with holiness. The world is already defeated by Christ. It's not our mission to save the world with prayer. The world is already saved by Christ. It's not our mission to bring justice and peace among the nations through our good works. Christ did that too. Our mission is to live our lives as witnesses to all that has already been done by Christ. To live holy lives b/c the world is defeated. To live prayerful lives b/c the world is saved. To live lives doing good deeds b/c Christ's justice and peace lives already in us. We live lives of holiness and prayer, and doing good works not to change the world but to show the world all that has already been done for it. Christ gives one sign after another that shows his glory and the glory of the Father among us. All we can do is point to that glory with word and deed, and urge the world, “Do whatever he tells you.” That's enough to get us close to the Cross. But to get all the way to the Cross, we must be ready and willing to sacrifice everything. To show the world the glory of Christ, we must believe – by word and deed – and be ready to die for love of him.

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13 January 2019

Joining the Jesus Gym

Baptism of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Who here is on a diet? Who joined a gym January 2nd? I'm going to let you hate me for a second: I lost three pounds over the Christmas break! While cheating on my diet for two weeks. Losing weight, building muscle, increasing stamina, and getting ourselves as fit as we can be is no easy task. Diet. Cardio. Weight-lifting. If you've ever started down this road, you know that you will not drop 25lbs in a week, nor will you be able to show off a six-pack by the weekend. Getting a flabby, overweight, diet-stressed body into some kind of shape requires determination, focus, commitment, and lots and lots of time. It helps to have someone with experience – a professional trainer, a coach, or a friend to keep you motivated. All of this applies to our spiritual growth as well. Being Catholics, we understand the sacramental nature of creation: the physical world is a sign of the spiritual, an imperfect revelation of God that both points to God's presence and makes Him present to us. We cannot, therefore, rightly divide the human body from the human soul and expect our spiritual lives to be fruitful. Just as the body needs proper diet, exercise, and a little hard-lifting, the soul needs its strength-training too.

We start our life-long regime at The Jesus Gym on the day we are baptized. From that moment on, “the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age. . .” As Catholics, we don't have any trouble understanding grace as divine help. What we do have trouble understanding sometimes is that the help we get isn't always the help we want. We sometimes approach the throne in prayer and ask not for assistance to accomplish some goal, but rather we ask God to accomplish the goal for us, instead of us. We can be disappointed to learn that grace does not prevent us from traveling the ways of the godless nor desiring what the world would have us desire. Instead, grace trains us how to be godly men and women. The hard work of chiseling out a ripped spiritual six-pack is all ours. But we do not work alone.

And not only do we not work alone, we cannot work alone. Christianity is a team sport. We play as a team, so we train as a team and the perfect model for teamwork is the Holy Trinity: three divine persons, one God. The more perfectly we imitate this model of Love in action, we closer we get to that Jesus Gym spirit we've been wanting. As noted above, the first step on this new regime is baptism. I did not baptize myself. Nor did any of you. The Church baptized us all with parents, godparents, friends, fans, by-standers, accidental tourists, all the angels and saints – every one in attendance. So, what does baptism do for us? Paul writes to Titus, “[God] saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”
First, notice: God saved. . .He poured out. We did nothing (nor could we do anything) to initiate the renewal of our relationship with God. It was His move and His alone. Second, notice: through Christ, by the Holy Spirit, through our Savior, by his grace. Christ Jesus is the only mediator, the only mechanism; he is the only way. Third, notice: us, us, our, we, heirs. Not “Me & Jesus.” Not “Jesus, MY Personal Lord & Savior.” His grace is poured out on US. . .WE are saved by the bath of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. . .Christ is OUR Savior. . .And WE are made HEIRS in hope of eternal life. This is what baptism does for us and to us: we are made just (righteous), so that we might work with God's abundant graces to get our spiritual bodies into the best shape possible.

But even before any of could be baptized in water and the Spirit the Jesus Gym had to be opened. Plans were laid long ago with the prophets. They rounded up the initial investors. The Plan was conceived and announced. And before it was fully born, there was one enthusiastic booster. Then, with some astronomical fanfare and a couple of sheep, the Plan was born, drawing its first foreign investors twelve days later. The Plan matured for a while and opened for business for the first time at a wedding in Cana. . .but the Grand Opening, the opening that makes The Jesus Gym not just another gym but The Gym for all peoples takes place at the River Jordan where Jesus' first booster baptizes him with water and then the Father baptizes him with His Spirit, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Now, The Jesus Gym is open for business.

If, after all the bad analogizing, you are still listening, let me quickly tell you why Jesus was baptized. By submitting to baptism, Christ demonstrated his acceptance of his Father's plan for our salvation. The Son submits in love to take on human flesh in order to bring the Father's offer of renewal to us. He becomes our sin; dies for us; rises again to the Father; and sends the Holy Spirit as our guide. The whole of his public ministry, inaugurated by the River Jordan, was to proclaim the Father's invitation and to leave us a body of teaching that serves to reveal what grace in action look likes. The Gospels answer the question: what does the perfected follower of Christ look like?

So, grace trains us for the godly life. What is the godly life? It is not scrupulous moral behavior. It is not meticulous orthodoxy. It is not righteous anger at injustice. It is not any one of these alone. The godly life is the life Christ left for us to follow. The godly life begins with baptism, grows with the Church, and ends with “Out of love, he/she ____for his/her friends.” How you fill in that blank will depend on how well you used your time and strength at The Jesus Gym. Most of us will spend our lives trying to decide if we have the courage to put “died” in that blank. Remember: grace trains. But we have to do the work.

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06 January 2019

Renew the Church with the Magi

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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30 December 2018

Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God

The Solemnity of the Mary, Mother of God, celebrates the decision taken at the Council of Ephesus (431) against the teaching of the Patriarch, Nestorius, who held that a human person could not be said to have given birth to God. The Patriarch of Alexander, Cyril, argued that Mary, as the chosen instrument of the Incarnation, conceived and gave birth to the Word, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, one person with two natures. Mary, then, is properly understood to be “Theotokos,” God-bearer.

Cyril wrote (in part) to Nestorius:

"And since the holy Virgin brought forth corporally God made one with flesh according to nature, for this reason we also call her Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh.

For In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God, and he is the Maker of the ages, coeternal with the Father, and Creator of all; but, as we have already said, since he united to himself hypostatically human nature from her womb, also he subjected himself to birth as man, not as needing necessarily in his own nature birth in time and in these last times of the world, but in order that he might bless the beginning of our existence, and that that which sent the earthly bodies of our whole race to death, might lose its power for the future by his being born of a woman in the flesh. And this: In sorrow you shall bring forth children, being removed through him, he showed the truth of that spoken by the prophet, Strong death swallowed them up, and again God has wiped away every tear from off all faces. For this cause also we say that he attended, having been called, and also blessed, the marriage in Cana of Galilee, with his holy Apostles in accordance with the economy. We have been taught to hold these things by the holy Apostles and Evangelists, and all the God-inspired Scriptures, and in the true confessions of the blessed Fathers."

Cryril published twelve anathemas against Nestorius. Cyril's letters and his anathemas became the primary texts from which the council fathers drew up their canons for the council.

The first anathema reads: “If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, The Word was made flesh] let him be anathema.”

The fifth anathema reads: “If anyone shall dare to say that the Christ is a Theophorus [that is, God-bearing] man and not rather that he is very God, as an only Son through nature, because the Word was made flesh, and has a share in flesh and blood as we do: let him be anathema.”

As is the case with all Marian dogma and doctrine, we are immediately directed back to Christ as our Lord and Savior. No Marian dogma or doctrine is declared or defined in isolation from Christ. She is always understood to be an exemplar of the Church and a sign through which we come to a more perfect union with Christ. Though our Blessed Mother is rightly revered and venerated, she is never worshiped as if she were divine. She is rightly understood as the Mediatrix of All Graces in so far as she mediated, through her own body, the conception and birth of Christ, who is Grace Himself. In no sense are we to understand our Blessed Mother as the source of grace. Rather, she was and is a conduit through which we benefit from the only mediation between God and man, Christ. In her immaculate conception and assumption into heaven, our Blessed Mother is herself a beneficiary of Christ's grace. As such, she cannot be the source of our blessedness, our giftedness in Christ.

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24 December 2018

Becoming a Child of God

NB. from 2012. . .

Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity (Day)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We start: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” Let there be day and night; let there be water above and water below; let be sky and earth; beasts wild and tame, birds, and crawling things; and let there be Man, male and female, created in the image and likeness of their Creator. With God, at the beginning, when He created everything that is, was the Word, and “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” It is this Word-at-the-beginning that we come together this morning to honor, adore, and welcome. Not the Word in majesty and splendor; not the Word in his brilliant glory, but the Word-given-flesh: the child, Jesus Christ, the infant son of Joseph and Mary. His birth among us reveals a narrow path, a way and a means back to God's glory and truth. To those who receive him he gives power to become children of God. 

We honor, adore, and welcome Christ-dwelling-us; we accept and receive him as Lord so that we may become children of God. Of all the ways available to God to make us into His children, why did He choose to send His only-begotten Son among us as a child? The complete answer to this question won't be available to us until we see God face-to-face; however, our Holy Father, Benedict, gives us a glimpse, a partial answer. In his Midnight Mass homily in Rome yesterday, the Holy Father said, “. . .it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him. . .It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you. . .So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.” We must remember that the incarnation of the Son was not the first time that God had tried to bring His human creatures back to Him. He appeared in glory to Moses. He guided His people out of slavery in Egypt as a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke. He sent one prophet after another to accuse His people of spiritual adultery and injustice and preach repentance. He sent the Law and demanded obedience. And over and over again, His people misheard, misread, disobeyed, rebelled. And over and over again, He forgave them and restored them to His grace. What we needed was a permanent solution. 

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews notes this turbulent history and points to just such a solution: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son. . .” All that had been revealed by God before the birth of the Christ is partial, incomplete. Just quick glimpses behind the veil that separates the Creator from His creation. With imperfect knowledge, and using broken human nature, we were unable to come fully back to God, unable to achieve—even with the help of the Law and the Prophets—we were unable to attain the perfection we were made to enjoy. Having willed that we once again enjoy the original justice of the Garden, God saw that it would be good for us to have perfect knowledge of His plan and a mended human nature to use this knowledge. To achieve this, He made the unique and final revelation of His plan for our salvation into a flesh and bone human child. Not only would this child show us the way back to God, he would be the way back, the only way back to our Eden. The key to His plan is the Christ Child and the virginal teenaged girl who gave him birth. 

What does the Christ Child reveal to us? John writes, “From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” From the fullness of Christ—from this one divine person with two natures: one human, one divine—from his fullness, we have been given one gift upon another, one grace after another. We have been given perfect human knowledge of God's plan for our salvation from sin and death. We have been given a map to follow along the Way. We have been given the Truth of this world and our place in the world to come. We have been given Life and life eternal. And we have been given all this for no reason than that God loves us as His children and wills that we live with Him forever. All there is to do is to freely receive all that He has freely given and then dwell as Christ does among the living and the dead. To make our reception of these gifts both fearless and complete, God sent His only-begotten Son to live among us as one of us. And he gifted us with a Blessed Mother who bears us up to His throne as one of her own to commend to us to His mercy. Christ and his mother bring into this world the unique and final revelation of God. 

We start again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” His light shines in the darkness of sin and death, showing all who choose to see a Way to Truth and Life. For those who choose to see, and in seeing choose to follow, he makes a promise of life eternal. And so, we gather here this morning to honor, adore, and welcome him among us as one of us. And in eating his body and drinking his blood, we pledge ourselves to leave this place, taking him out into the world as a wonder and a revelation. God the Father through the Holy Spirit placed the Son in the virginal womb of Mary. She is our mother and our model when she says to Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Leave this place then with your heart and mind left open to her example; leave here knowing, feeling, and believing that God loves you and wants you to live with Him forever. Leave here with the Blessed Mother's surrender resounding in your body and soul. And come back—again and again—to give Him thanks for His Christ, to give Him praise for His plan to bring you home.

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16 December 2018

Scandal? Rejoice! Despair? Rejoice!

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

After so many months of bad news for the national and international Church, it's about time we rehearse some of the basics of the faith. I don't mean basic doctrines or moral precepts but the even more fundamental attitudes and dispositions that our status as heirs to the Kingdom should provoke in us. Even as we contend with scandal, betrayal, persecution, and trial, our best hope for surviving and growing in holiness is to remain joyful. Paul writes to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! [. . .] The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all. . .” What is there to rejoice about? Is Paul aware of what's being going in the Church lately? Does he know about the confusion, the secrets, the backstabbing and abuse? Does he know about the declining number of regular Mass-goers? Doesn't he know we have a priest shortage and that the number of sisters and nuns are in a free-fall? No, he doesn't. He wrote to the Philippians from prison while under the threat of the death penalty for preaching Christ. From prison. Preparing to die. For preaching Christ. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The Lord is near!”

Why should we rejoice in the middle of this mess? Because the Lord is near. He's near to being born on Christmas Day, and he is near to coming again as our Just Judge, and he is near to us in the Blessed Sacrament, and he is near in one another as the Church. He is never far away. And we rejoice b/c – whatever the world throws our way, whatever disaster we face – we are his brothers and sisters, heirs to the Father's Kingdom. The proper attitude toward our situation –whatever that situation might be – is always joyfulness. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that joy is an effect of love. When one loves the result is joy. To experience joy and share that joy is a sign not only that we are loved but also that we love in turn. And I want to be clear here: I'm not talking about love and joy in worldly terms – warm fuzzies and butterflies and being goofy and giggly all the time. When we love, truly love, we love within the Love Who is God Himself. We participate in the divine nature of God Who is Love. Our joy, then, is what happens when we love as God loves us. Sometimes divine love looks like the creation of the universe. Sometimes it looks like Christ on a cross. What's the effect? Joy. Our joy at being saved from the darkness of sin and eternal death.

When Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice and to rejoice always, he also tells them to pray with thanksgiving “so that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding [may] guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” What are our hearts and minds being guarded against? Anxiety. Hopeless expectation. Despair. Praying in thanksgiving guards against those attitudes and dispositions that lead us to surrender our inheritance in exchange for. . .well, nothing. Nothing at all. Is your place at the Wedding Feast worth a life of anger? A life of disappointment and despair? The third Sunday of Advent serves as the Church's way of bringing our hearts and minds back to their most basic orientation: we are heirs, children, brothers and sisters, and nothing this world – or anyone in the Church – can do anything to change that. . .if we rejoice and rejoice always! So long as there is joy, there is love causing that joy. And whatever scandal or deception or crime that pops up must be seen through the eyes of joy. This too will pass. But God's love and our joy never will. We can thwart the Devil by giving God thanks for our trials. Has there been a perfect time for us to practice forgiveness? To show the world God's mercy? To love radically in the face of the Devil's best efforts to tempt us into self-righteous anger and despair?

God's prophet, Zephaniah, says, “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you. . .” God is with us. He rejoices at our rejoicing. And He sings joyfully b/c we belong to Him. Nothing and no one can spoil this joy. Nothing and no one can turn our joy into mourning. As we wait on the Christ Child at Christmas and the Just Judge at the end of the age, we pray with thanksgiving; we ask and we receive; we rejoice and we love. And we sing with Psalmist: “I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the Lord!”

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09 December 2018

Preparing the Way of the Lord

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

Lent reminds us that we are anointed priests – sacrificing, interceding, sanctifying. Ordinary Time reminds us that we are anointed kings – ruling by serving, ransoming ourselves for others. Advent – especially the 2nd Sunday of Advent – pushes us to remember that we are anointed prophets of the Lord. We are reminded that, like John the Baptist, it is our mission to “prepare the way of the Lord, [to] make straight his paths.” Our mission as prophets begins with baptism and continues uninterrupted day-to-day until we are called home. Paul writes, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it. . .” So, we do the good work of preparing the way of the Lord in this world “until the day of Christ Jesus.”
What does “being a prophet” look like in 2018? Look to John the Baptist. He comes out of the desert, a desolate place, a place devoid of life. He finds his voice there. Outside family, friends, culture, and civilization, John finds a voice to proclaim the Coming Christ. He doesn’t use this voice to promote himself. He speaks of Another. He doesn’t prepare the way for his own celebrity. He celebrates Christ. He doesn’t try to make his own life easier by claiming some sort of divine connection. He makes the paths straight for the Lord. He doesn’t try to “fit in” or blend in. He preaches against the cultural grain, against the dominant powers of the world. He is not concerned about being comfortable with his role or finding satisfaction in his ministry or being a team player. His is a lonely voice. He does not coddle the establishment or the revolutionaries, the elite or those who claim to speak for the oppressed. He calls them all – every one – to repentance, to baptism, and to a life of good fruits. He points again and again to Christ, the mightier One, the One Who Comes to baptize in the Spirit. Always pointing toward Christ, always toward Jesus. And he dies without regret, refusing to compromise, refusing to speak a lie just “to get along.” That is what a prophet does. Two thousand years ago, last week, today, and tomorrow.

Now, if all that sounds like I'm pushing you to become soldiers in the culture war that's currently consuming western civilization, I'm not. I'm not saying that to be a prophet of Christ you must don hair-shirts and march about, protesting this or that cultural abomination; or fling yourself at public sinners, or stand on street corners with poster board signs that read, “REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!” In fact, most of that kind of behavior damages the credibility of our faith, making the Church look like some kind of doomsday cult. Pope Benedict XVI likened the contemporary Church to the Church as she existed in first two-hundred years after the resurrection – out of favor with the dominant class; politically weak; crippled by internal conflicts and scandal; floundering in her efforts to evangelize; and attacked from all sides by paganism, worldliness, and government suspicion. This is when he noted that the Church of the future would be smaller and more faithful. As the dominant culture withdraws its favor from the faith, those in the Church who no longer see any social advantage to belonging to the Church will leave. What's left will be those who truly believe. The Church the martyrs' died to nourish.
I believe we are seeing this papal prophecy come to pass in our lifetimes. How do we respond if we choose to remain faithful? First, we hold firmly in our hearts and minds the message of Advent: Christ has come; Christ will come again. We wait patiently for his coming at Christmas, learning how to wait patiently for his Second Coming at the end of the age. Second, while we wait, we grow in holiness by faithfully attending to the sacraments; praying daily; completing works of mercy; being vibrant witnesses for Christ in our schools, workplaces, and homes. This doesn't mean shouting at sinners, throwing Bibles at the heathens, or forcing others to endure our religiosity. It means speaking and behaving like Christ wherever we are. It means never compromising the faith for popularity. Never accommodating the world for mere convenience. Third, and here's where my Dominican training comes to bear, how well do you know your faith? Do you study scripture? The Church Fathers? Do you own a copy of the Catechism? If so, do you read it? Do you know something of the Church's 2,000 year old history? If pressed, can you explain to your children, grandchildren, your neighbors why the Church teaches against abortion, artificial contraception, same-sex “marriage,” and encourages us to help the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized? And lastly, remaining faithful in these turbulent times requires that we have a clear, unsentimental view of the Church herself. She is always one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The men and women who manage her earthly affairs are sometimes none of these. There will be times – and we are in one right now – where the Church herself must be confronted by her own prophets. This too is part of the difficult reduction our future holds.
So, after all that, are you ready to be a prophet? You are ready to be a prophet if you are ready to acknowledge your sin. Repent. Turn around. Face God. Produce good fruit first and then expect it from others. You are ready if you can call out injustice; condemn oppression; defend the weak and helpless; stand firm on God's Word, preaching and teaching His truth w/o compromise or accommodation. We are ready if we can live waiting on the Lord, at peace while proclaiming with our every word and every deed: “Prepare! Christ is coming”

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08 December 2018

A Most Dangerous Greeting

NB. Adapted from a 2006 homily preached at Madonna Hall, Univ. of Dallas.

Immaculate Conception
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel Academy, NOLA

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” What sort of greeting is this? A dangerous one, a very dangerous one. The angel Gabriel, sent by God to Mary, greets the virgin by telling her that she is most graced, wholly blessed, chosen, and attended to by the Lord. And Mary knows the greeting is dangerous: “But she was greatly troubled…” Troubled…and wise. Mary pondered the angelic greeting with dread. She understood that this particular, unique grace picked her out of all God’s creatures. She understood that receiving an angel from the Lord meant a mission, a purpose beyond her mortal end, a life for her of singular graces, an honored life of doing the Father’s will for His glory. Dangerous indeed!

Mary is being asked by the Lord to serve as bearer of the world’s salvation, the vessel of the Word, and the Mother of a redeemed nation. Saying yes to this places her at that moment in time, that instant of human history where the Divine takes on flesh, sets out toward selfless sacrifice, and heals us all. In her ministry to all creation, the virgin gives her body, her will for the rest of us so that the Infinite Word might speak Itself as a Finite Word and gather us together into a single heart, a single mind, one voice in witness to the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord. She is the mother of our salvation, the perfected vessel of our eternal healing. Mary is a preacher of the gospel, the first preacher of the Word – the most dangerous job there is in this world.
When we took on the responsibility of bearing the Word to the world – when we became preachers of grace – we took on the dangers of opposing all that the world worships as good. Speaking the Word of Truth against the Lie riles up the worst resentments and the most violent frustrations of those in the world who resent Mary’s Yes, who resent the gift of the Christ Child, and who turn their faces against his invitation to participate in the Divine Life. The danger for us here is twofold: 1) that we are punished as the source of the resentment and frustration among those who reject the Word and 2) that we succumb to the temptation to see these people as hopeless, beyond reach, and deserving of temporal punishment. The first – that we are blamed – is common enough in history and even now. The second – our judgment of others – is scandalously common and unworthy of the virgin-child who made our own Yes possible.
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is first a celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God as man. Mary’s dangerous Yes to God prepares the way of the Lord, make possible his advent in creation, and establishes her as the first preacher of the Word. Her clean conception in the womb of her mother points us unerringly to God’s mercy, unerringly to God’s invitation to bear His Word to the world with unyielding charity, steely will, and the mercy of truth.
We can meet the dangers of violent opposition and avoid the dangers of judging others by submitting ourselves in both cases to the ministry of the handmaid: “Lord, let your will be done in me according to your Word.”

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05 December 2018

With the Devil in the Desert

NB. A recent discussion in one of my homiletics classes prompts me to repost this 2006 effort. . .

1st Sunday of Lent 2006: Gen 9.8-15; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.12-15
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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02 December 2018

Yes, I'm an Advent Nazi

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

This time of year, my family and friends call me The Grinch. The seminarians will call me Scrooge. I'm not grouchier or any more mean-spirited right before Christmas. . .I just happen to enjoy Advent, and I want us all to anticipate the Lord's birth at Christmas. I want us to truly wait for him, not rush head-long into the gift-grubbing and cheap marketing tricks. So, I'm not the Grinch nor am I Scrooge. I prefer the term “Advent Nazi.” No Christmas decorations before Dec. 24th. No tree, no bells, no gift-wrapping, no Santas! No hymns about Baby Jesus – “Silent Night,” “The First Noel,” “Away in the Manger.” None of that! I don't even want to see the colors red, green, and white in close proximity before the vigil Mass on the 24th. Advent colors are purple, purple, rose, and purple. In that order. Oh, and while I'm ranting, Christmas concludes with the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th not December 26th. Why is all this important? Because I am convinced that we have lost the art of waiting, the fine art of anticipation. We no longer know how to “look forward to” anything, so we are constantly made anxious by what's coming.
Or, in the case of Advent, we are made anxious about who's coming. We can't avoid the fact that Luke's gospel description of the Lord's coming has a strong sense of foreboding about it, “. . .nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world. . .” We know that the Lord has been born. And we celebrate his birth every year at Christmas. But we also know that he will come again. We just don't know when. The idea here is to warn us, to get us ready for an event that we know is coming, but we don't know when it's coming. That tension btw knowing and not-knowing can make us anxious. Unless! Unless, we have properly waited; that is, unless we truly anticipate this coming event. How do we properly wait, truly anticipate? One way is to set aside a time every year during which we emphasize the expectation of his second arrival, during which we sing and pray and read about him coming among soon as a child. Advent prepares us for his second coming (date unknown) by teaching us to wait for his birth (Dec 25th). If we will not celebrate Advent properly, we will not be ready for his coming again.

So, why do we start celebrating Christmas the day after Halloween? Lots of reasons. Most of them have to do with worshiping the demon, Mammon. Money. Sales. Profit-margins. Staying in the black. Consumerism. But I think there's an even deeper, spiritual explanation for our rush: living with anticipation feels like deprivation. Waiting patiently feels like we are “put upon,” made to feel unimportant or small. I want what I want and I want now! If I don't get what I want right-this-second, then I am being deprived of something I need. I'm being denied, refused! What used to be eagerness becomes impatient entitlement. What used to be genuine joy, waiting for the coming of Christ, becomes bored cynicism. Jesus says of his coming again, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” “That day” – his coming again – can catch us by surprise and trap us only if we have forgotten how to wait, forgotten how to expect and anticipate. We can be prepared to welcome the Christ Child at Christmas AND Christ the Just Judge at his coming again by properly celebrating Advent, by paying careful attention to the traditions of this season.

If we do this, if we are “vigilant at all times and pray that [we] have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent,” Christ's second coming will be no surprise to us. If we allow the Advent season to teach us how to be patient, we will “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” and we will not be anxious or afraid. Every year I watch videos of Black Friday shoppers mauling each other for Christmas deals – cheap TV's and limited edition toys. And every year I imagine that I can hear the demon, Mammon, laughing at his own worshipers. How many of those people elbowing each other in the face for a on-sale blender will patiently wait for the birth of the Christ Child? Do they believe that Walmart sales and coupons will help them when the Just Judge returns? I don't know. But I do know God the Father fulfilled His promise to send us His Son in the flesh. And I know that He will fulfill His promise to send us His Son again in judgment. If you know the first, then believe the second, and wait. Wait ready. Wait patiently. Wait as if your eternal life depends on it.

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25 November 2018

We cannot belong to this world

Christ the King
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Every year on this solemnity I ask you (and myself) the same question: who or what sits on the throne of your heart? Who or what rules your life, my life? You might think that a priest and Dominican friar wouldn't need to ask himself this question, but you'd be wrong. It's a question that needs asking every day, every hour of the day by every man and woman who claims to follow Christ. Who rules me today? Who will rule me in the next hour and the next? We get to choose. And who or what we choose to rule us defines us, tells us who we are and where we are going. As men and women vowed under baptism and bound together in the Holy Eucharist there is only one answer to the question of who rules us: Christus Rex! Christ the King! And you know and I know that b/c we are not yet the saints we were made to be – loudly proclaiming Christ as our King and living under his rule as subjects are two very different things. Shouting to him “Lord, Lord!” may feel like enough to get by, but to be ruled, to be weighed and measured by his Word and Deeds, well, that's something else entirely. Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” And if we are to be subject to his rule, neither can we belong to this world.

So, what does it mean not to belong to this world? What does it mean – right here and now – to belong to God's Kingdom? At the very least it means that we live for another kingdom, another citizenship that transcends the powers of this world. It means that we look far and beyond the daily cares of being in the world and see these cares in the light of another Kingdom that far surpasses this one in glory and splendor. It means that all we do and say are judged against the perfection of God's final end for us, His Kingdom of Heaven. It's not that all we do and say here and now is useless but that we bear up under the obligation to bear witness to His perfection while we are here. What does it matter if we are rich and beautiful and successful and talented, and die without Christ? All that wealth and beauty and success and talent goes into the grave with us. It is wasted on a six-by-three foot hole in the ground. Never to rise. Lost to the tides of time and rotting in place. But if we place Christ on the throne of our hearts, if we put him over us to rule, then our God-given gifts will bear infinite fruit, eternal rewards. You are created and recreated to be vessels of Christ, carrying his Word and Deed into the world to bring his sacrifice of mercy to sinners.

Our question this evening – who sits on the throne of your heart? – isn't a rhetorical question. It's not just a way to start a homily. It's a deeply serious question and demands an answer. Right now, in 2018 America, you and I are being called out by the world. We are put against a wall and ordered to choose. Serve Christ or serve Mammon. This sounds a bit overwrought, I know. But it is nonetheless true. In centuries past, our ancestors in faith were ordered to choose Christ or the Roman Emperor. Choose Christ or the King. Choose Christ or the State. Choose Christ or Capitalism or Socialism or Relativism or the Mob or Ideology or Being on the Right Side of History. The choice is always the same for us. Choose Christ or choose something or someone else – Diocletian, Cromwell, Napoleon, Mao, Hitler, Republican, Democrat. Whatever. Fill in the blank. Blindfold in place, hands tied, back against the wall, gun to your head – who sits on the throne of your heart? Who rules you? You don't have to tell me. I'm as obligated as you are to answer the question. Christ the King wants to know. He's not interested in punishing us. We're free to choose. But our choice defines us. Are you a Christ in the world for others? When Christ the Just Judge stares through you on Judgment Day will he see himself in you?
Talking about the stark opposition btw Christ and the world may make you uncomfortable. A little nervous. That's understandable. We've become accustomed to accommodation and compromise with the powers of the world. Many in the Church – clergy and laity alike – have traded their right and responsibility to bear truthful witness for the temporary comforts and glories of position and power. This is nothing new. Judas was the first. But he wasn't the last. Even now, we are living through a betrayal of Christ – the scandals consuming the Church. We can plainly see what happens when the followers of Christ place the things of this world on the throne of their hearts: deception, secrecy, corruption, and treachery. How do we recover? A new policy? A new procedure? Some new committee made up of perfect human beings? No. We re-enthrone Christ in our hearts and recommit ourselves to preaching, teaching, and living the Truth of his Word – the Whole Truth, not just the parts that get applause from the world but everything he has taught us. We must rededicate ourselves to becoming Christs for others.
We do this by turning again to Scripture and Tradition. What does Jesus say and do in the Gospels? What has the Church taught since her founding at Pentecost 2,000 years ago? What wisdom have the great saints and doctors of the Church given us? The Early Fathers? The medieval mystics and theologians? The bloody witness of our Body's martyrs? What about the practical wisdom of Christian family life we've received from our mothers and fathers? The practical holiness of our monks and nuns? We can reorient and rededicate ourselves to Christ by placing ourselves squarely and forthrightly upon the foundation stone of the Church – “I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” If Christ rules your heart, you listen to his voice. You hear his truth. And you are unafraid to proclaim, “The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty!”

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