23 May 2022

A dangerous game

6th Week of Easter (M)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The Lord plays a dangerous game with our lives. By opening our hearts to his Word and the HS, he puts a target on our backs. By calling us to repentance and conversion, he sets us against the spirit of the age and demands that we stand firm. By revealing himself as the Truth and taking us in as brothers and sisters in the Truth, he makes us orphans in a world of lies. Of course, we have the option of ignoring both the Word and the HS. We can freely choose not to become brothers and sisters to the Christ and carry on in sin toward death. But if we choose to hold our hearts open, the HS will come to stay. And his presence will push aside the darkness, the lies, the confusion, and even death itself. As all the apostles but John discovered, the prince of this world will not tolerate too bright a light for long. There's the danger to our lives. By receiving His Word and the HS, we freely choose to help the Lord affix that target. There can be no whining from us about opposition or persecution. Jesus says that abiding in the HS will bring both. What we can do is abide in peace and shine so brightly in faith that it blinds the Devil himself.   

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21 May 2022

No deal for the peace of the world

NB. the coffee was strong this morning, so I'll probably revisit this one for tomorrow's Mass. It's a bit. . .extra.

Audio File

6th Sunday of Easter

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


The peace of Christ is NOT the peace of the world. Jesus himself says so. What's the difference? The peace of the world comes with accommodation and compromise; with going-along-to-get-along. We “fit in with” the world. We “settle into” the spirit of the age and float along with its currents, surrendering ourselves to the speed and direction of whatever fad or mad fashion pushes the hardest and pulls the longest. The peace of the world is narcotic. And addictive. It promises all those things that we hope will keep us safe. Safe from what? From whom? From the world itself, of course. Money keeps us safe from poverty. Power keeps us safe from slavery. Security keeps us safe from fear. But poverty, slavery, and fear belong to the world. So do money, power, and security. The peace of the world is a protection racket. “In exchange for your immortal soul,” the Spirit of the Age declares, “I promise to protect you from Me. I will give you everything you need to protect yourself from the evils I myself cause. Deal, or no deal?” The peace of Christ says, “No deal.” A heart given to Christ rests quietly in his peace. We are unaccommodating, uncompromising; we are unafraid and untroubled.

Or. . .we should be given the nature of Christ's peace. Jesus says to his twitchy disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” NB. Not only is his peace different from the world's peace but the way he gives his peace is different as well. The world's peace is a protection racket that does nothing more than protect us from the world itself. And its peace is purchased with our soul. Christ's peace is the peace which passes all understanding, keeping our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God. AND. . .it is given to us. Not sold to us, nor bartered with us, nor loan out with interest. Given. Freely handed over without obligation or attachment. While the Spirit of the Age is a loan shark and extortionist, Christ is a victim whose sacrifice frees us from sin and death. Worldly peace mires us in fear, spiritual poverty, despair, and ultimately leaves us to prostitute ourselves for the barest acknowledgment from our Betters in the world. Christ's peace frees us from fear with the already fulfilled promise of resurrection. Christ's peace alleviates our spiritual poverty with the Father's gratuitous mercy. Christ's peace destroys despair with everlasting joy, now and in the kingdom to come.

So, what about those times when we are afraid? Ready to accommodate or compromise? What about those times when it seems that despair is the only proper response to circumstance? We've all been there. Death. Disease. Natural disasters. Job loss. Marriage problems. Doubt. Personal demons, mental illness, deadly vices. Where is Christ's freely given peace in the middle of a hurricane or a divorce or a child's death or a crisis of faith? It's right where it has always been. Right there; it's right there [point to crucifix]. The Spirit of the Age, its peace, makes no sacrifice. It takes. It manipulates by nature. It feeds on fear and worry. And bets on you and me being too weak in the face of terror to resist. But Christ, Christ went to the Cross. He went to the Cross so that you and I can be raised up above all that would drag us down. He died to kill death. And death, death-eternal, is indeed dead. Loss hurts. No doubt. Loss hurts. Placed along side the peace of Christ, loss is gain. Loss binds us closer to Christ. Loss clears our eyes and ears to better see and hear the love of Christ who lost it all for our sake. The peace of the world – that peace sells us the lie that loss is avoidable. The price we pay for believing the lie is crippling debt. Debt to the spirit who would prefer we just die.

So, if the peace of Christ is so precious and useful, how do we acquire it? What novenas do we have to pray? How long do we have to fast? How big a check do we need to write? The genius of the peace of Christ is that there is nothing we have to do but receive. Nothing to give or beg or borrow or steal. Just receive. Choose to be in the peace of Christ. It is already, always given. Jesus says, “My peace I give you.” When those inevitable losses come, when disaster strikes, receive the peace of Christ. Know he is with you. Always with you. He never left. He sent his Holy Spirit to travel with us. And that spirit of love remains. Every loss is gain in the presence of the Holy Spirit. His ministry is strength, endurance, patience, and, if you will receive it, peace. We travel through this world as citizens of the kingdom. Our passport is the peace of Christ.

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15 May 2022

As I have loved you

NB. The last bit of this homily is a repeat of last Sunday's homily. 

5th Sunday of Easter

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


Judas leaves the room. . .and then Jesus says what he needs to say, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” Why does Judas leave? And why does Jesus wait for him to leave? Judas leaves because he is on an urgent mission, a mission to sell Jesus to the temple guard. Jesus waits for Judas to leave because he – Jesus – is also on an urgent mission, a mission to die for the sins for the world. A vital part of that mission is to leave his disciples a legacy of love. They are to become preaching and teaching witnesses to his death and resurrection. Judas, who cannot love, cannot be part of that legacy. So, Jesus waits. Judas leaves. And Jesus commands his witnesses to love one another. Why love one another? So that all will know that we follow Christ. Judas does not follow Christ. He does not love Christ. He cannot bear witness to what will happen in Jerusalem on the cross and near the empty tomb. He, literally, walks out on love. He walks out on Christ to betray him for money. Judas is what happens to us when we betray Christ for money, power, popularity, standing in the world, or all of the above. He eventually hangs himself. Judas is what happens when we sell Christ to the highest bidder at the Auction of the Spirit of the Age.

So, how do we sell Christ at the Auction of the Age? Easy. First, we accept that anything and everything is for sale. Loyalty. Land. People. Our souls. We accept that anything and everything has a price. An exchange value. Then, second, we calculate how much whatever it is we have is worth to the world. Our loyalty. Our family and friends. Our immortal souls. What's it all worth? Judas calculated that Jesus was worth thirty pieces of silver. He took the deal. Upheld his end of the bargain. And decided later on that his own life wasn't worth his betrayal. Next, we find a way to think/feel our way to justifying the deal we've made. I needed that promotion. My family deserves the best. It was a small compromise, just a minor concession. I can do a lot of good in this position of power. With all this praise. I have a platform. So did Judas. His platform was a rope and a tree. Finally, we try to convince ourselves that our betrayal is what Jesus would've really wanted. He really wanted us to kneel to lies, confusion, death, and the powers of the world. He really wanted us to rebel against his Father and pretend to be gods. He really wanted us to put Now over Forever and hold ourselves up as idols of human perfection.

No! None of this is love. All of this is idolatry and pride. None of this is the Good we are made to pursue nor the Good we are made to become. It's the gospel of Judas, the Bad News of Me First, Me Last, Me Always. What Divine Love requires is that we always and everywhere will the Good of the other. Friends. Enemies. Family. Persecutors. Neighbors. Even those who intentionally do us evil. Dying, from the Cross, Jesus pleads, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” So, yes, we sell Jesus to the highest bidder when we compromise doctrine, or dilute moral teaching, or corrupt the liturgy. We sell him every time we commit a mortal sin and call it Good. These are all common enough temptations in the world. But we can also sell him and our love for him when we take up the tactics of the world to fight the world. When we put on the armor of convenience and expediency. Sure, we can win a political battle here and there. We might even win a decisive, worldly victory. But we have done so by accepting cash or applause or power in exchange for Christ. Is this the love he calls us to? No. It isn't.

We have a huge test of Christ's love coming very shortly. It seems likely that the SCOTUS will release its opinion tomorrow overturning Roe v. Wade. We can and should rejoice, if this is so. Here's the challenge to those of us who have prayed for this outcome for decades: Know who the Enemy is! Pro-abortion politicians are not our enemy. Planned Parenthood and NARAL are not our enemy. Women who get abortions are not our enemy. Not even the abortionists themselves are our enemy. Our enemy is the Spirit of the Age, the spirit that convinces them and us that death is a solution to suffering. That dark spirit feeds on anger, misery, violence, and self-righteousness. It feeds on pride and hatred and rage. As followers of Christ, we do not and cannot respond in kind to those who see themselves as our enemy. Meeting this spirit's anger with our own, or its intolerance with our own, or its violence with our own is an exercise in failure on our part and a triumph for the Enemy's recruitment program. The Enemy wants/hopes/counts on us to meet its tit with our tat. To go round by round blow for blow. Why? Because when we do so, we provide it with everything it needs to accuse us before God. To bring us before the Father and say, “See! Your sheep are no better than mine!” We respond by doing the work Christ has given us to do. We continue offering adoption services as we have for centuries. We continue providing free pre-natal care as we have for centuries. We continue supporting families as we have for centuries. And we help those women who have had an abortion recover and heal. Our response is to starve the Spirit of the Age, feeding it nothing but Christ's love, his mercy, and his peace. Without Judas the Betrayer present, Jesus says to those who follow him, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

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08 May 2022

Hearing, knowing, loving

4th Sunday of Easter

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St Dominic Church, NOLA

Being a former farm boy, I am not all that happy about being compared to sheep. Sheep are dirty. Loud. Stupid. And they stink. When I was in seminary, our preaching and Scripture professors told us to think carefully before we called God's people “sheep.” Is that really the image you want to leave with your parishioners? That they are dirty, loud, stupid, and stinky? If you call yourself a shepherd, then you're the keeper of the sheep; the rustler of the sheep; you poke at them to make them go where you want, and when the time comes, you fleece them! So, maybe the whole sheep/shepherd image is a bit outdated. Unless, of course, you remember that back in Jesus' day sheep were a foundation stone of the economy. They provided just about everything needed to survive. They were cared for almost like a family's children and were protected from lions and wolves. That sheep/shepherd image has two sides. The side Jesus uses this evening is the side that places the sheep well within the family, well within the protection of the Father. He places us – his sheep – in familiar territory, in comfortable reach of food, water, and shelter. He places us – his flock – within reach of his Word.

Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” How do we explain that some who heard Jesus teach and preach turned away from him? That some openly opposed him? That others started to follow him but abandoned him along the Way? And still others stuck with him almost to the end? Those who have ears to hear will hear and those with eyes to see will see. Those who are most in need of mercy and desirous of it will hear and see the mercy Christ offers to them. The “poor” – those who live lives of spiritual poverty – see the riches Christ offers them. They recognize those riches as theirs, or they don't. They receive those riches, or they don't. IOW, we will choose to follow Christ, or we won't. There is no halfway. If we choose to follow, we follow. We follow behind, stepping where he steps and heading in the same direction at the same pace. If I am running head, or walking off in another direction, or skipping along toward a cliff – I am not following. I can say that I'm following Christ, but I can also say that I'm the 25yo multi-millionaire quarterback of the NOLA Saints. Don't make it so. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” If you follow Christ, he knows you. And if he knows you, then you have heard his voice.

To be a follower of the Good Shepherd means that you belong to a flock, a family of individuals who heard the voice of Christ and chose to follow him. We came into an existing family, a long-lived, long-suffering family that's been through every trial and tribulation the Enemy could invent. For over 2,000 years our flock has endured, persevered, rebuilt, struggled, and fought for the faith on just about every continent in every language known to man. And here we are doing it some more! We endure and persevere and rebuild and struggle and fight for the faith b/c we chose to follow the Good Shepherd. We rely on his protection, his strength, his love, his mercy. And we will always have all that we need to carry on. Some will hear and turn away. Others will hear, join us, and leave. Still others will recognize in the voice of Christ – that's me and you – the Father's offer of mercy and stay with us. If you'll forgive the image – they will add their stink to ours and become invaluable sheep. About us and for us, Jesus says, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”

No doubt you have heard the news that the SC is probably going to overrule Roe v. Wade and end this country's fifty-year long nightmare of abortion-on-demand. Some states will continue to allow abortion. Some will regulate it and others ban it altogether. Several national abortion rights groups have called on supporters to disrupt Masses this Mothers' Day morning. I doubt we'll see anything like this NOLA. However, what we will see is increasingly angry, intolerant, and violent threats to the Church. And thus staying in Christ's flock will increasingly come at a price. Remember: we live in the world; we are not of it. We belong to Christ. And Christ calls us to stand fast and firm against the furious assaults of our ancient Enemy. Abortion supporters are not our enemy. Women who have obtained abortions are not our enemy. Even the abortionists themselves are not our enemy. Our enemy is the Spirit of the Age, the one who feeds (and has always fed) on our rage, our self-righteousness, our hatred, and our pride. Christ the Good Shepherd commands us, his sheep, to starve this dark spirit, and to offer it nothing but mercy, peace, and the Father's abundant love. Meeting this spirit's anger with our own, or its intolerance with our own, or its violence with our own is an exercise in failure on our part and a triumph for the Enemy's recruitment program. The Enemy wants/hopes/counts on us to meet its tit with our tat. To go round by round blow for blow. Why? Because when we do so, we provide it with everything it needs to accuse us before God. To bring us before the Father and says, “See! Your sheep are no better than mine!” Christ calls us to stand fast and firm against the furious assaults of this ancient Enemy. How? Prayer. Daily prayer. Personal prayer. Prayer together as his flock. The rosary. Divine Mercy. St. Michael the Archangel. Fasting. Fasting with the intention for rescue for those deceived by the Enemy. Fasting to protect ourselves against deceit. Fasting for strength for our shepherds. Works of Mercy. Working as Christ in the world. Giving to ministries that work with expecting mothers. To ministries that help women heal from abortion. To ministries that facilitate adoption. Forgiveness. Go to bed each night with no one owing you a debt. Forgive abundantly, freely, recklessly. The Enemy cannot abide the peace of Christ.

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01 May 2022

We need a bigger boat

3rd Sunday of Easter

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Judas sells Christ to his enemies for thirty pieces of silver. Peter, the Rock, denies belonging to Christ three times that same night. In the ensuing chaos after Christ dies on the Cross, Judas commits suicide. Tellingly, he hangs himself on a tree. The disciples flee to the Upper Room in despair. Everything they'd hoped for, planned for, dreamt about is in ruins and nothing makes sense. Then, Jesus starts appearing to them in the flesh, his resurrected flesh. He proves who he is with his wounds. He eats with them. He teaches them. Even Doubting Thomas is convinced! Now, they are together in Galilee where Jesus promised to meet them. Peter decides to go fishing, but the fish are too busy to be caught. Jesus appears to them with some helpful advice. And they land a net full of fish. Finally! All the chaos, despair, grief, and fear begin to fade and a mission starts to take shape. With one question, Jesus sets this band of sorry students on their apostolic path, “Peter,” he asks, “do you love me more than these?” Peter, you denied me in the Garden as I said you would. But now, do you love me? This is also Christ's daily, hourly question to you and to me.

Why does Jesus need to hear the answer to this question? Surely, he knows Peter's heart. Surely, he knows that Peter denied him in the Garden out of panic and fear. Of course, Jesus knows this. But does Peter? Does Peter know why he denied Christ? It would appear that he doesn't. Just look at his luck with the fish. Twice we read that Peter goes fishing and catches nothing; that is, not until Christ appears and re-teaches him how to fish. Peter fails to provide...twice. Peter fails to see the Lord for who he is...twice. And twice Peter is confused by the Lord's instructions, nearly drowning himself one time in a panic. This time he is distressed b/c the Lord keeps asking him, “Peter, do you love me?” He answers, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Three times he hears the question and three times he answers yes. And each time he answers, Jesus, orders him to feed his sheep. To feed the Lord's sheep, Peter must love the Lord. Fear, panic, despair, crippling doubt, anxiety, distress...none of these put fish in the boat. None of these put sustenance on the table. Peter the Rock, the foundation of the Church, must himself be grounded on the bedrock of loving Christ. Love me first, Jesus says, then feed my sheep.

When Jesus is finished teaching Peter that loving him is the bedrock of feeding his sheep, he turns to you and me and asks, “Do you love me?” We might wonder why Jesus needs us to love him. He sounds like a too-needy friend who pesters us for constant attention. Or maybe a spouse who doesn't trust the weekly “I love you” and needs more. Of course, Jesus isn't us this question for his benefit. He knows the answer already. The question is for our benefit. Hearing the question and answering it requires us to pause and survey our thoughts, words, and deeds. We have to take stock, a quick inventory of how we actually feel about the Lord. Do I love him? Or do I love the idea of him? Do I love my image of him? Maybe I love my version of him, my personalized concept of who and what he is to me. Maybe I love the Good Shepherd and the Teacher but not the angry guy flipping tables in the temple yard, the one talking about unrepentant sinner going to hell. Maybe I love the Just Judge who rigorously enforces the moral standards I approve of but not the one who forgives with the Father's mercy. You'll notice that Jesus doesn't ask Peter, “Do you love your version of me?” You'll notice that he doesn't ask you or me if we love what we like about him and ignore the rest.

The Lord asks, “Do you love me?” Does all of you love all of me? Do you love the Good Shepherd, the Just Judge, the one who feeds the five thousand; who whipped the money changers; who shamed the ones who accused the adulterous woman; who threatens divine torture for those who refuse to forgive; who called the little child to him and taught us that we must love him and hate mother, father, son, and daughter? Do you love Him? Jesus the Social Worker and Jesus the Great High Priest? Jesus the 1st century rabbi and Jesus the Incarnate Son of God? Peter fails as a fisherman b/c he loved his fear, his panic, and his doubt more than he loved his Savior. When Peter obeys the Lord, his net is full and so is his love. And out of this love, Peter will feed the Lord's sheep. When the Lord's sheep are fed in love, they mature in love and love in turn. The net gets bigger. The catch grows. More and more are fed. More and more come to love the Lord. And we welcome more and more fishermen. Jesus looks down from heaven, smiling, and says, “I think we're gonna need a bigger boat!”

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24 April 2022

Can you live and die for Christ?

nd Sunday Easter

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


Just one week later and the scene is tense. The disciples are frightened and disbelieving, maybe even on the edge of freaking-out and abandoning the Gospel altogether. And who can blame them? For three years they've followed the man Jesus as he wandered the countryside teaching and preaching the conquering power of the Father's freely offered mercy. Healing the sick, exorcising the possessed, multiplying bread and fish to feed the thousands, the disciples had every good reason to trust that their teacher was exactly who he said he was. And then Judas sold him to the temple priests and the Romans nailed him to a cross. At the expected moment, when the Son of God should have come down from the cross and laid waste to his enemies with thunder and fire, at that moment, he instead cried out to his Father – Why have you forsaken me? – and died. Now his body is missing from the tomb and no one knows where they took him. Hunted as traitors and heretics, the disciples hide in fear, wondering what went wrong and why. To their surprise and shame, the resurrected Lord appears in their midst, and says, “Peace be with you.” Despite their lack of faith, their abandonment of hope, the Risen Lord shows them his mercy.

Or maybe he shows them his mercy b/c of their lack of faith and abandonment of hope? When Thomas the Twin returns to their locked-down hide-out, the other disciples bear witness to the Lord's appearance. He refuses to believe their testimony; he refuses to believe that the resurrected Lord appeared to them, showing them his wounds. In defiance and with all the arrogance of a modern American, Thomas announces, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” One week later – this week – the Risen Lord appears again in their midst and again shows them the Father's mercy, “Peace be with you.” And rather than punish his arrogant disciple, Thomas, the Lord does the unexpected again. He relieves Thomas' disbelief in the only way that Thomas could accept: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” The Lord's gift of Divine Mercy moves Thomas to an act of faith. He shouts, “My Lord and my God!” 

We can sympathize with Thomas' disbelief. We can sympathize with his faith. No doubt each one of us have lived through days and weeks of disbelief, and days and weeks of vivid faith and hope. We can even sympathize with the frightened disciples, locked away in their hide-out. Over the centuries, the Church has thrived in hiding and barely survived out in the open. We've ruled empires and been ruled by them. We've shaped whole cultures and allowed ourselves to be shaped by them. Whether we are hiding in fear of the State or openly thriving in the marketplace, there is one constant that never fails us: God's enduring and freely offered gift of mercy for the forgiveness of our sins. That offer, this gift never changes. Our Lord always appears in our midst and says, “Peace be with you.” The stillness of that hope and the constancy of that faith pulls us to believe in him and belief in him gently lays us down with love. Thomas' arrogant demand for physical proof is born of fear. If what his fellow disciples tell him is true, then he is obligated to act, to change, to become someone wholly given-over to the power of Spirit who is Love. That commitment is more than just frightening; it's dreadful, filled with the possibilities and promises of giving testimony to an event he himself did not witness. Can he bring himself to live as a follower of Christ and die as his witness when he does not/cannot know if Christ is truly risen?

That's a question we must ask ourselves. Can we? Can I live as a follower of Christ and die as his witness when I do not/cannot know if Christ is truly risen? It's one thing to live as a follower of Christ, to live using his words and deeds as my model. It's a whole different kind of thing to die b/c I live according to his words and deeds. Thus, we are tempted to surrender to the world every day. And in small, quiet ways we do. We surrender a piece of our freedom in Christ every time we sin. We surrender every time we fail to bear witness. And it will all end in total surrender to the world if we do not surrender totally to Christ first. A total surrender to the world will not end the Church. The Church will always endure. What will come to an end is the life in Christ for those who give up, for those who – like Thomas and the disciples – choose despair over hope, choose hiding-in over going-out. When Thomas sticks his hand into Christ's wounds he shouts, “My Lord and my God!” What went on in his head during those seconds btw feeling our Lord's torn flesh and his confession of surrender? Maybe he realizes his mistake and repents. Maybe he feels ashamed of his denial. Maybe he is convicted in his heart that his mind is wrongly closed to believing what he cannot see. Maybe, just maybe his fear is given rest and his anxiety is appeased by the knowledge that his fellow disciples have testified in truth: the Lord is no longer in his tomb! Thomas is made faithful by the radical truth that his Lord and God is truly risen! Knowing the Risen Lord and believing in the Risen Lord makes Thomas a man-sent-out, an apostle. A man who is what he does and does who he is.

Each one of us is made faithful by the truth of the Risen Lord. If you come forward this morning to eat his body and drink his blood, you are putting your hands into his wounds. Do not be unbelieving but believe. Do not be unknowing but know. And ask yourself: if I can live as a follower of Christ, can I die as a follower of Christ? To say yes I can is the beginning of your surrender.

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03 April 2022

Justice & Mercy come together

5th Sunday of Lent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


You've seen those cop and courtroom shows where the lawyer asks the hostile witness a damning Yes/No question. The witness starts to give a detailed answer and the lawyer yells, “Answer yes or no!” The witness reluctantly answers either yes or no and the lawyer smiles, looks knowingly at the jury, and dismisses the witness. This is the sort of drama the scribes and Pharisees try to pull Jesus into. This woman was caught in the act of adultery. Should she be stoned to death? Yes or no?! Fortunately, for the woman, Jesus is no easily intimidated witness. He is the Just Judge who sees into the hearts of both the woman and her accusers. Jesus does what he always does when his enemies try to corner him with lawyerly questions – he asks one of his own: who accuses her? Where are her accusers? Let them cast the first stone to put her to death. While he waits for the stones to start flying, Jesus writes in the dirt. John doesn't tell us what he writes. In the meantime, no stones are thrown. No one speaks against the woman. Slowly, the mob slinks away, beginning with the elders. Then, justice and mercy come together and the woman is sent on her way with a admonition to sin no more.

What just happened? Is Jesus teaching us that adultery isn't a sin? No. Is he saying that the woman was innocent of the sin? No. Is he telling us that as sinners ourselves we cannot call sin Sin? No. To understand this bit of drama we need to understand Jewish Law. It takes two to commit adultery. Where was the woman accomplice, the man? According to the Law, he is subject to stoning as much as she. The one who witnesses the sin must make the public accusation. Where is the witness/accuser? If the accused is found guilty, the witness/accuser must throw the first stone, i.e., be the one to execute the guilty. The scribes and Pharisees make the accusation, but they did not witness the sin. No one in the crowd witnessed the sin. Jesus knows this. So, he dares the crowd to make themselves into sinners, criminals by executing the woman in violation of the Law. Nothing in this bit of drama says that adultery is anything but sinful. Nothing says that sinners can't or shouldn't call sin Sin. What this bit of drama says is that if you are going to use the Law to condemn a sinner, you'd better be following the Law yourself. Sin is sin. Sinners are persons. Call sin Sin. Call persons forgiven.

Jesus dares the scribes and Pharisees to follow the Law. They can't. Doing so would condemn them under the Law. To underscore his own accusation of hypocrisy, Jesus writes in the dirt. The Law forbids writing on paper on a holy day but allows writing in the dirt. Though John doesn't tell us what Jesus is writing, tradition tells us that he is alluding to the prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah cries out, “The rebels shall be enrolled in the netherworld.” To have your name written in the dust is to be enrolled in the netherworld as a shameful rebel against God. The woman's accusers watch Jesus writing in the dirt; remember Jeremiah's righteousness cry to God; and then ask themselves: are we prepared to be consigned to the netherworld as rebels against God? “In response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.” Confronted—even subtly—by their own failures in holiness, the scribes and Pharisees simply fade away to plot another trap for the Lord. Jesus says to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” He grants mercy to the sinner, the person while naming sin Sin.

And that's the difference btw man's justice and God's mercy. Man's justice condemns both the crime and the criminal. God's mercy passes sentence on the sin and forgives the sinner. By forgiving the sinner, God does what God Is: Love. Forgiveness of sin, showing mercy to the sinner is in no way an admission that sin isn't Sin. The righteous do not need mercy, therefore, only the unrighteous may receive it; that is, only those found guilty of sin require mercy in the first place. It's vital to our growth in holiness that we understand how God's mercy relieves us of the burden of sin. The weight of disobedience is crushing. Under the heavy load of sin, we cannot follow after Christ; we cannot complete our mission “to go and do likewise” if we are suffering in slavery to our disobedience. This is why the Father sent to Son to lift this burden off our backs. Christ has removed the yoke of sin and we are now free to follow him. When Jesus refuses to condemn the adulterous woman all he is doing is freeing her so that she might choose to take up his yoke and do the joyous work of witnessing to God's mercy. Adultery is still adultery. But no sin—not even adultery—can forever chain a soul in servitude when the Father's forgiveness is freely offered and freely received.

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27 March 2022

Without the Father We Are Nothing

4th Sunday of Lent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

Tulane Catholic/OLR, NOLA

This parable has it all! Self-righteous religious folks. A disrespectful son. A father's disappointment. A family broken by sin. Loose morals, financial ruin, an inevitable rock-bottom comeuppance complete with pigs, and fraternal jealousy; then, conversion, confession, repentance, absolution, and, finally, rejoicing. Much rejoicing. This parable is about a father's mercy, a son's dissipation, another son's anger and...you and me. This parable, like all of Jesus' parables, works on several levels at once. It's about Israel's infidelity and a return to grace. It's about the Church's infidelity and her return to grace. It's about my faithlessness and yours and our happy return to the Father. The foundational truth revealed in the parable is fairly straightforward: outside a filial relationship with the Father we can expect little more than misery. Fortunately, the Father is Mercy and any sinner who repents and asks for forgiveness will receive it. We know this b/c Jesus eats with sinners. He doesn't eat with sinners to signal his approval of their sin, but to reveal the always, already opened arms of the Father, waiting to welcome us home. In confession and repentance, we are always joyfully welcomed home.

So, this is the Parable of the Forgiving Father. He's sinned against twice in the story. First, the younger son wishes his father dead by asking for his part of the farm. That's what this request amounts to: give me my inheritance now b/c to me you are dead. Second, the older son – sick with self righteous jealousy – criticizes his father for forgiving his disrespectful younger brother, saying, in essence and with much resentment, you are a foolish old man! What are the father's options here? He could turn away the younger son, pointing out how he deserves his slave-wage job, working with pigs. He could rant about the disrespect he's been shown by his sons. He could vent his disappointment and reject them both under the Law. Friends, family, neighbors, even the religious folks would applaud the steel in his spine and the righteousness of his anger. These two ungrateful brats want all that is his, but they do not want him. They want his wealth, but they want it detached from their filial obligations to him. Instead of bouncing them both out of his life, the father chooses mercy. Always mercy.

Do the sons' attitudes toward their father sound familiar? They should. It's the spiritual history of Israel, the spiritual history of the Church. It might even describe my spiritual history and yours. Since the serpent started chatting up Eve in the Garden, we've been prone to believing that we are capable of becoming gods w/o God's help. Over the millennia, we've turned to alien gods, foreign rulers, ancient philosophies, modern science, postmodern technology, materialist ideologies, secular politics and utopias, and sometimes just plain old-fashioned magic in search of a way to become gods w/o God. This is the sin of Pride, the root of all sin. And all sin is the rejection of our filial relationship with the Father. The younger son looks for salvation in wine, women, and song. The older son looks for salvation in being a slave to his father's orders. Both see their salvation as products of their own hands. Something they themselves can conjure up and live out on their terms alone. Both resent their father for his outsized role in their lives. They see him as suffocating, controlling, unlikable, and ever present. Most importantly, both sons fail to love, fail to give thanks, fail to honor where they came from and how they got there. They cannot be happy b/c they refuse to be joyful. They will not to surrender themselves to all that the Father has to give them.

If Lent is about anything at all, it's about practicing the spiritual art of surrender. That is, the art of turning ourselves over to the will of the Father and living our best lives according His commands. Yes, that sounds terribly old-fashioned and maybe even a little scary. But we are the freest that we can ever be when we think, act, feel, and speak in accord with our final end – eternity with the Father. The big and small sacrifices we choose to make during Lent work on us to turn us toward Him who best fulfills our deepest desires, our brightest goals. We can imitate the sons. We can wallow in the material stuff of the world, feeding our passions, and wasting our inheritance. We can wallow in our self-righteous adherence to the Law, judging sinners, and being resentful of our Father's mercy. Or, we can be like the father in the parable. We can choose to be elated that a lost son or daughter returns home. We can choose to throw a party for those who came to their senses and received the Father's mercy in confession and repentance. We can choose. We can choose to become like God with God. To be Christ with Christ.

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10 March 2022

Can you receive a gift?

1st Week of Lent (Th)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Even the wicked know how to give good gifts to their children. True. The question is: do those children know how to receive good gifts? Having a gift given is not the same as receiving it. I can be given a gift but receive it as an entitlement, or as payment on a debt. A gift isn't a gift until it is received as a gift – freely given, freely received. We are used to the tit-for-tat exchange of goods. No Christmas gift for Bob this year b/c he didn't get me anything last year! That's bartering, not gift-gifting. The gift of the Cross is not only freely given but universally given, given to all time and place. From the moment of creation to creation's final hour, the gift of the Cross gives eternal life – IF we choose to receive it as the gift it is. We are free to believe we are owed salvation or to negotiate for heaven. That nothing worthwhile is ever truly free. But Jesus says, “Even the wicked know how to give good gifts to their children.” If even the wicked can be generous to their children, why should we turn a mercantile eye to the Father's gift of salvation? Lent is our time to learn the good habit of freely receiving all that God had to give us.

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06 March 2022

The Devil wants to worship you

st Sunday of Lent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


“For a time.” For a time. The Devil departed from him for a time. Meaning what? The Devil is coming back. He always comes back. In that desert, after 40 days of fasting and prayer, Jesus is confronted by man's first and only real Enemy. The one who would sell the already broken promises of power, riches, fame, unbeatable security, and perfect safety for the price of your soul; the one who lies to Eve, telling her, “You can be a god w/o God”; the one who accuses us day and night before God, that one is bold enough or dumb enough to try his con game on Jesus. “If you are the Son of God...” IF you are who you SAY you are...jump through these hoops and prove it. It's a child's dare. Sneering, petulant, angry. It's also an attempt to bribe Jesus into revealing his Messianic mission and ministry before the appointed time. Jesus' reply is our template, a map for traveling through our own Lenten desert: trust the Father's loving-care; worship no other god; do not test His will. The Devil departs from him...for a time. He is coming back. He always comes back. And Lent is our time to train intensely for his temptations.

First, we have to understand what it is “to be tempted.” If the Devil shows up on a Friday during Lent and waves a plate of grilled tofu steaks under my nose, I can easily say no. That just doesn't tempt me. However, if he pops in with a dozen vanilla cream filled Krispy-Kreme doughnuts, well, he got my full attention. To be tempted is to be lured in. Seduced. Drawn into a sin by an apparent good. And that's the hard part of deflecting temptation – the Devil never tempts us with something that we cannot conceivably regard as good. He uses the apparently good to entice us into an abuse of the truly good. Money, e.g., is a good. But if I worship money as my god; if I have become Money – my being is defined by my wealth – then I can be tempted with it to sin. Same goes for all the goods of creation: drink, food, sex, leisure, security, friends, family, career. All good. But none is God. The Devil is an artist at taking a good and twisting it ever so slightly to make it damaging to the soul. He can twist it to excess – hoarding, gorging; and he can twist it toward waste – wantonness, intemperance. To be tempted then is to be hailed as a god by the Devil and offered the chance to worship yourself instead of your Creator. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return!

How do we remember our origin and end in dust? Like any other 21st c. over-educated, middle-class American professional, I am tempted by the glamours of security and comfort. There's food in the fridge. Bills are paid. Insurance secured. I have a car, a cell phone, a laptop. The temptation isn't to acquire more of each or even better of each. The temptation is to make these comforts and securities into my gods. To make them into who I am rather than merely using them as tools. I'm not denying the Father's providence by having medical insurance. But the fear of losing it can be used to tempt me into sin. Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone.” In fact, we do not live by bread at all. We live by the gift of God's love in which we live, move, and have our being. Without His care, there would be no bread to eat. Without his care, none of us would exist to need bread in the first place. So, our first response to any temptation is to thank the Lord for His loving-care. To thank Him for creating Krispy-Kreme (and money and sex and jobs) and for showing us His beauty in created things, including ourselves most especially. Turn the temptation into an opportunity to give God thanks and praise. And then watch the Devil flee!

Remember: all temptations are grounded in the possibility of committing the sin of Pride, the mother/father of all sin. Pride is the false belief that I can achieve godhood w/o God's help. I can do this salvation on my own. Wealth will save me. Science, politics, religion will save me. Technology will save me. I will save me. Something, anything other than God Himself can and will save me. The moment you entertain this lie, you open yourself to temptation. You literally invite the Devil to worship you and offer you sacrifice. His sacrifice to us is always the same: praise and glory in this temporary world. All the Important People will count you among their number. Applause. Awards. Prestige. The Best People will think you deserve to be in their ranks. All you have to do is lie to yourself, call yourself a god, defy the Father's will, and do and think and say whatever we say you must. When death comes for you – as it always does – you will be a god of the grave, a deity of dirt and ash. We did not create ourselves. We cannot recreate ourselves. And we cannot make ourselves into gods. Temptation is fundamentally a lie, a lie used to seduce us into the trap Adam and Eve fell into. Turn temptation into thanksgiving and see your way out of this Lenten desert.     

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27 February 2022

Start shaking your sieve!

8th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


Lent approaches! Now is as good a time as any to ask ourselves: am I bearing good fruit, or am I bearing bad fruit? Am I producing love, mercy, justice, and faith? Or, am I producing hatred, vengeance, injustice, and infidelity? If you are anything like me, your fruit basket is a little bit of both. There's some impatience along with some wisdom; a bit of anger and some mercy; maybe a few instances of injustice and a moment or two of faith. Living in the world while not being of the world has never been and will never be as simple and easy as we might like. As my mother used to say while we worked in the butter bean patch, “That's a tough row to hoe.” But why is it a tough row to hoe? Why do we have to struggle to do the Good and avoid Evil? Well, we are rational animals. We eat, sleep, reproduce, work, play, and then we die...like any other animal. We differ from every other animals in that we are rational; that is, we have been given the gift of moral deliberation, the ability to make moral choices. And therein lies the problem. Thanks be to God that he has given each of us a conscience – the ability to discover and recognize moral truths when we see them. Jesus says, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good. . .”

Far be from me to accuse our Lord of begging the question! But what is a “good person”? A good person is one who produces good fruit. OK. But what is “good fruit”? Hitler thought murdering the Jews was a good thing. Mao thought destroying 4,000 years of Chinese history and culture was a good idea. Putin thinks invading Ukraine is a good idea. Is genocide, cultural suicide, and war all good b/c someone believes they are good? Obviously not. But that is exactly what most modern people believe – if I believe it's good, it's good. We may even hear Catholics say things like, “My conscience tells me that what you are calling a sin is actually a good thing.” These days the sin in question is almost always something to do with sex: abortion, same-sex behavior, premarital sex/cohabitation, etc. It's this era's obsession. NB the use of “conscience” here. It's used like a voodoo spell. Just add “my conscience tells me” to any sentence and whatever follows is magically good! That's not how conscience works. That's not how any of this works. Conscience discovers and recognizes moral truth. Conscience does not invent moral truth. So, we can ask: how does conscience work?

Conscience is easy to define and hard to explain. Conscience “bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn”(CCC 1777). As Christians, we are gifted with a supernatural desire: to return to God, the Supreme Good. To return to God means knowing and acting upon the truth, making moral decisions that produce good fruit. As human persons we are both rational and passionate. We can rationally deliberate, and we can react emotionally. In our reason, we are most like God. So, our reason must rule our passions; our rational nature must rule our animal instincts and appetites. When passion rules reason, we are less like God and drawn away from Him. Hitler, Mao, and Putin allowed passion to rule them. Greed for riches, lust for power, anger with their enemies, envy at success, pride in their own strength. And millions died in war, disease, and starvation. Our own failures in choosing Evil will not produce death, disease, and destruction on the scale of a world war. But they will nonetheless lead to death, disease, and destruction. For ourselves and our loved ones. God gifted each of us with conscience so that we always know the Good to choose.

Like any God-given gift, conscience must be received, refined, and put to use. God gives you a gift, so you are responsible for cultivating and using it. Conscience is the gift of discovering and recognizing the truth. It's not magic. It's reason and revelation; that is, our rational minds and God's revealed truth. A well-formed conscience is one that has been shaped and is guided by right reason and Scripture. A moral judgment that defies reason and denies the truth of Scripture is not a well-formed conscience. If you firmly believe that one race of humans is lesser than another race of humans, adding “in good conscience” to your false belief does not make it true. If you firmly believe that killing a child in the womb can be morally good, adding “in good conscience” to your false belief does not make it true. If you firmly believe that sex outside of marriage is morally fine, adding “in good conscience” to your false belief does not make it true. Adding “in good conscience” to an Evil choice does not magically transform Evil into Good. We have chosen Evil and added lying to the charges. We have failed to cultivate a God-given gift and allowed ourselves to be duped by the Enemy.

So, how do we listen to conscience? Jesus tells us, “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly...” IOW, sin makes us stupid, that is, irrational. We cannot see Evil as Evil when we are participating in Evil. Aquinas teaches us that when we consistently choose Evil and call it Good we become fools. And fools never see their own folly. The first step then is confession, penance, and absolution. Be free of sin so that your well-formed conscience may shine. Then study what the Church teaches about moral issues. Not only what She teaches but why She teaches what She does. Our tradition is deeply rooted in reason, Scripture, science, and the natural law. Rely on the wisdom of the saints. When confronted with a hard moral question, I remind myself: “I am not as smart as 2,000 years of Church teaching.” Ask a friend who is advanced in holiness. Talk to your pastor. Next, practice, practice, practice; that is, practice making good moral choices. Yes, you will get it wrong on occasion. Go back to confession. It takes time and patience to acquire wisdom. Sirach says, “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear.” But if you never shake the sieve, the wheat and husks remain together. Lent is coming. Start shaking your sieve! 

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20 February 2022

Are you happy with your face?

7th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


Audio File

So...there you are: standing before the Just Judge. (You've died, btw). You're standing before the Just Judge, waiting your turn. Back in your parish – your family, friends, and co-workers have gathered for what you hope is a real funeral Mass and not a “celebration of life.” You need serious prayers right now! Not cutesy stories and a canonization homily! As the line moves you closer to your judgment, you remember something you heard once at Mass: at the final judgment, Christ the Just Judge will look into my face. If he sees his face in mine, then I lived in the world as if I were already in Heaven. I am ready for the eternal wedding feast. However, if he sees my face instead of his, then I lived in the world as one belonging to the world. He cannot recognize me. I have chosen to be excluded from the company of God and the blessed...forever. Unfortunately, it's a little late for soul-searching. You've died. The face you wear is yours for eternity. Is it Christ's or yours? How do we come to wear the face of Christ now, before we die? Jesus says, “Stop condemning and you will not be condemned...the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

So, are you happy with your face? Is your face the eternal face of Christ, or do you wear the false face of the passing world? If the former, keep doing what you're doing! You're on the right path. If the latter, we need to talk. (I'm guessing that most of us aren't sure, including me, so we'll struggle on). Here's what we need to talk about: you and I decide for ourselves whether we join the eternal wedding feast or the eternal feast of worms. Now, this may be a revelation for you. And you may find this truth reassuring. I get to decide where I spend eternity! Great! At the risk of throwing ice water on your joy, I need to add: this is not a once and done decision; it's a daily, hourly decision we make with every thought, word, and deed, with every breath we draw. Since death comes like a thief in the night, and there is no changing your mind after death, vigilance is key. So, at the forefront of your heart and mind is the imperative, the command from Christ himself to love God, self, and others; to judge as you want to be judged; to measure others as you want to be measured; to forgive as you want to be forgiven. IOW, to be Christ in the world so that you will always be Christ when you leave the world. That's how we acquire his face for our own.

And there's no need to sugarcoat the truth here. You know it already: this is no simple task. Why is it difficult? I cannot read your heart and mind. When you do or say something that prompts me to judge you – tempts me to sin – I can't read your motivations. I don't know your heart or mind in that moment. I'm reacting to your words and deeds. I don't forgive you b/c forgiving you might lead you to think that I approve of your words and deeds. That I'm joining you in your sin. Maybe forgiving you will make you think it's OK to sin against me, or lead you to conclude that your sin isn't really a sin after all. Your words and deeds hurt me, angered me, shamed me. And I need to react out of hurt, anger, and shame. That doing so will not make things better is irrelevant. You have wounded my pride. Now both of us stand condemned. What's missing from these confused deliberations? Sacrificial love. Charity. And a very practical consideration: do I want to wear the face of Christ? The world wants me to react to an offense aggressively, decisively. Forgiveness is weakness. Vengeance is strength. The world also wants me at the table for the eternal feast of worms.

But if I choose to wear the face of Christ and to join the wedding feast of heaven at my death, then I choose forgiveness w/o hesitation. It is precisely b/c I cannot know your heart and mind that I assume grace and measure out to you mercy overflowing. I forgive you not your sin. You forgive me not my sin. You and I are human persons; we are not our sins. We are not our sins so long as we are capable of repentance and receiving God's mercy. At death, we lose the gift of repentance, and our face is set. If death were to find you right now, whose face would you be wearing while awaiting your final judgment? Remember: thief in the night. Vigilance. Always be prepared. In a little more than a week from now, we will begin the Great Lenten fast. We'll be reminded of our beginning and our end: ashes, dust. And we'll be exhorted over and over again to repent, to turn to the Lord, to believe the Gospel. Forty days is more than enough time to turn vice into virtue, to acquire the good habit of immediate forgiveness, to figure out whose face we will wear into the grave and before the throne of judgment. “The Lord is kind and merciful,” the Psalmist sings. His kindness and mercy is yours and mine if we choose it. The thief always comes. Choose wisely.

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15 February 2022

"I feel seen"

6th Week OT (T)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Kids these day have a saying, “I feel seen.” It means that someone has said something that “calls me out” or indirectly criticizes me. Mark's relentless skewering of the disciples for their lack of faith and their failure to understand Jesus' teachings...well, I feel seen. I feel skewered. And, of course, that's the point. Who am I supposed to be in the gospel story? Jesus?! No. That's the goal, sure. But it's not where I am right now. Right now, I'm not listening to Jesus b/c I'm hungry or crazy-busy or taking a nap or otherwise just putzing around, avoiding paperwork. Jesus is warning me about the dangers of falling into the vices of Herod and the Pharisees, and I'm just wondering if I can get away with adding another Diet Cheat Day to my weekly calendar. What's the problem here? One, Jesus' perspective is eternal. He sees it all at once. I don't. Two, he's w/o sin. I'm not. Three, he's the embodied Word of God. With baptism, I am too, but since I'm not eternal and remain sinful, I can't quite grasp what that means here and now. So, in between wondering what's for dinner and watching Korean candy making vids on Youtube, I manage to squeak out some prayer, some spiritual reading, a decade or two of the rosary, and maybe a little community time. Hardly the dangerous stuff of Herod and the Pharisees but also not exactly what Jesus is asking for. What is he asking? “Do you not remember. . .?” Honestly, no. When I'm whirling through another day of meetings and classes and NOLA traffic, I don't remember. I forget. If you “feel seen” by this Gospel, own it. Name it. And like any good habit, eventually the repetition of noting how you forgot will make you remember.    

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13 February 2022

We are blessed right now

NB. The deacon is preaching this evening, but I thought I'd write a homily anyway. . .just to stay in shape. 

6th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

The promise of heaven for good behavior and the threat of hell for bad behavior is really all about social control. It's about using the promise/threat of an afterlife to keep us in line while we're still alive. Pie-in-the-sky, fire and brimstone – all that nonsense. I believed this lie when I was younger; that is, I believed the lie that heaven and hell were just fables told to keep us peasants under control. Back then, in my twenties, I thought everything was about power and control. Who has it? Who suffers b/c they don't? Who benefits from the system of religious myths and rituals? Now, have ecclesial and political authorities used religion as a means of social control? Sure. Anything humans touch can and will be twisted to an evil end. That a hammer can be used to murder doesn't mean that hammers are morally bad. That the Beatitudes can be used to pacify the angry masses into believing that things will be better in some fictitious heaven – well, that doesn't mean we are not blessed when we follow Christ and work toward being perfected in him. “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” Better yet: rejoice and leap for joy for your reward is – right now – already great!

We make a big mistake when we assume that we must wait for heaven to receive our reward for being faithful followers of Christ. Sure, the fullness of our reward will be great then – no doubt! – but we start sharing in the Kingdom we've inherited even now. What is the Mass but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet? What is confession but a glimpse into the Father's mercy? What is baptism and confirmation but our first steps as heirs and members of the holy family? Marriage makes the married couple a sacrament of Christ's love for his Bride, the Church. And the sacrament of anointing brings us directly into the healing power of God. Jesus preaches the Beatitudes not to pacify us deprived peasants into a compliant citizenry but to show us that our suffering now shapes us into perfected vessels for his gifts. But. . .we must suffer well. We can suffer now with an eye on some distant reward. Or, we can suffer now, suffer well, and benefit immediately from how we choose to suffer. The sacraments help. Prayer certainly helps. Good works always increase merit. But nothing beats loving sacrifice in bringing us close and closer to our perfection in Christ.

There are two components of loving sacrifice: surrender and gratitude. Together these two result in obedience. Not mere compliance. But obedience – truly loving God, listening to His Word, and following His will. Surrender is about coming to know a simple truth: I am not in control. Never have been. Never will be. I was thrown into this world by my parents. I wasn't consulted. No one asked for my permission to be born. I didn't get a choice in my race or sex or anything else for that matter. Yet – here I am. At some point, I started making choices. And at that point, I started thinking (falsely) that I was in control. The sum total of my choices up until I surrendered proved to be...less than spectacular. MUCH less than spectacular, in fact. At death's door from an internal staph infection at 34yo, I chose surrender. I let go of the wheel. Did I occasionally snatch it back? Yes. Did I successfully drive my life toward Christ when I did? No. Ended up in a ditch every time. Age helps surrender b/c age helps you see the Real as it is...not as you want it to be. Think of surrender as your first sacrifice. Your intellect and will upon His altar, your contrite heart and mind raised up and given over to be made holy. A sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

Giving thanks is harder than we sometimes imagine. Saying “thank you” is an admission of dependence. It's a confession of needing help. Once you've surrendered, once you've offered your heart and mind in sacrifice, the help you need is abundant and freely given. Turning your prayer life toward gratitude deepens your humility, and you begin to understand what Jesus means when he preaches about being blessed. Blessed now, blessed then. Always blessed in thanksgiving. The deeper you grow in humility, the easier obedience becomes. You learn a new habit, or rather, you relearn an old habit in a new way: faith. It's not just trust anymore, or hope, but a still, grounded, rock-solid certainty that God's promises will not be fulfilled. BUT...they have already, always been fulfilled and you participate fully in them. That's blessedness this side of paradise. And with that blessedness comes the driving need to bear witness to the gift you have been given, the gift you have freely received. When you do, when you bear witness, you offer loving sacrifice. And you grow closer to Christ. Blessed are those who die to self in surrender and gratitude and become Christ for another. 

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08 February 2022

Jesus goes hard

5th Week OT (T)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Instead of reading the Pharisees' questions to Jesus as a Gotcha Moment, we can choose to read them “against the grain,” as legitimate. That is, we can assume that they are genuinely curious about why Jesus and his disciples aren't performing basic purification rites. This makes Jesus' response sound a bit harsh. But he's in a teaching moment and sometimes harsh lessons stick better than subtle ones. The not so subtle lesson here is simple: God wants a contrite heart. Not religiousy pantomime. Religious theater is all well and good. . .if the heart and mind performing the script is sincerely contrite and ready for genuine sacrifice. Maybe the Pharisees see in Jesus and his followers something missing from their own spiritual practice. Maybe they see the spots in their lives where the missing pieces go and want to know how Jesus and his disciples fill them. A subtle lesson on integrating word and deed, heart and mind might not overcome centuries of religious vice. So, Jesus goes hard, calling them hypocrites and accusing them of replacing God's law with mere human tradition. To the publicly popular Pharisees this must've been a wet smack in the face. But a necessary one. At the root of tradition is a long forgotten response to God. Only a sincerely contrite and sacrificial heart can retrieve from history what God was asking of us back then. Such a heart would know that He is always asking of us the same thing: come to me and be at peace. Tradition is always our answer. But it is never the source of our peace.   

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