31 December 2005

Mechanics of a homily...

Several readers have written asking me to explain what a “homily” is, meaning, I think, that they want to know what a homily is supposed to do in the liturgy. I’ve directed them to relevant church documents, etc. but I think the question deserves a more direct answer. In the comment boxes on Jimmy Akin's site I listed off a few things that parishioners could look/listen for in a homily so that they could give Father constructive feedback. I made a dramatic plea for the Catholic faithful to hold priests to high standards of preaching. The bottomline is quite simple: if you don’t care about the quality of the homily, Father isn’t going to spend much of his rapidly dwindling time on quality preparation. He needs to know that you think it’s a priority!

Q: What is a homily?

A: Let’s start with what it ISN'T

* several stories of dubious humor strung together with a “moral” tacked on

* a pep talk, an appeal for money, an update on parish construction, or a book review

* a report on Father’s last visit to his shrink/therapist/spiritual director

* a stump speech, a rousing call to political arms, a psychology/sociology lecture

* an academic essay on Things Theological-Philosophical-Scriptural

* a love-letter to big money donors

* 8-15 unscripted minutes of the Mass where Father gets to show the crowd what a great guy he is by blowing off the homily!

…so, what IS a homily?

* a liturgical device of Speaking the Word, giving the Word of God voice for today

* authentic, authoritative instruction in the living faith of the Church

* an exhortation to communal and personal holiness, encouragement in the face of despair

* an “unpacking” of the readings in a way that addresses real problems of faith

* a liturgical device for raising questions, suggesting answers, stirring up trouble, getting into fights

Q: How is a homily prepared/written?

A: Every preacher is different, of course. I can give you a brief outline of how I do it:

I read the lectionary readings about a week ahead of time to see what strikes me. I usually mumble to myself about how dull the reading is or how I’ll never squeeze anything out of THAT text or how we just had that reading two weeks ago, etc. Then I will read it again a few days later—having forgotten it by then—and something will strike me as odd/weird/brilliant/curious. I will grab a commentary to check on any cultural references or historical oddities, and then I will begin to pose a question or a problem to tackle. I will locate the readings in a Bible (I own five different English translations!) and look at “where” the readings are in the larger narrative. This almost always gives me something to work with in the homily. All this time, I am praying for inspiration, for insight. I don’t write a word of my homily until the morning of the day it is to be preached. I am a morning person, so I’m up at 4:30am, coffee in hand, ready to roll! Weekday homilies are 550-650 words, Sunday homilies are twice that.

What’s basic, I think, to any good homily is an application of the readings to real, contemporary problems. I don’t mean to suggest that the homily needs to be a “fix-it” talk where the priest gives the assembly quick and easy DIY solutions to complex problems; however, the homily can be a great way for the preacher to raise issues, questions, problems that are common to his parish/ministry and show how the readings and the tradition might help to address them. This means, of course, that a good preacher is listening, listening, listening to what’s troubling God’s faithful.

I always try to do the following in every homily…

* preach the gospel in front of me, not the gospel I think the congregation wants to hear, or the gospel that will get me the fewest complaints, or the gospel that will get me the most compliments!

* include a humorous story if there’s one that’s truly relevant (I’m a Southerner born and bred, so I exaggerate like I breath—loudly and on a regular basis.)

* use an image, a phrase, or a line from ALL four readings; the Psalms, sadly, often get shortchanged

* preaching is an oral form, so I write for oral presentation: lots repetition, alliteration, “unpacking,” and frequent use of language from the readings, the liturgy of the day, and the tradition

* say something truly challenging and maybe even unnerving! (I’m a Dominican, so I am not particularly inclined to spoon feed folks religious pabulum or feel-good psychobabble just to keep things sweet.)

* I am downright tenacious about preaching the following: a) the universal call to holiness; b). our salvation understood as our divinization; c) our salvation as an undeserved, unmerited, totally FREE gimme from God; d) our responsibilities to the Body of Christ as members of the Body of the Christ; e) the need for true humility before the authority of the Church to teach the authentic faith; f) the absolutely indispensable necessity of a powerful private and common prayer life (cf. CCC Part IV), and g) our responsibilities in revealing Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to one another!

Q: What needs work?

A: I read my homilies from prepared texts. This will never change. It can’t. I am tied to language as a writer, a poet, an English teacher, etc. I just can’t let go of the text and preach “off the cuff.” I will ramble, jabber on for an hour, wander around until someone chunks a hymnal at me. I need to practice more so I can be more engaging with the assembly and not so glued to the paper. I’ve been told that I talk too fast—and I’m a Southerner! And that my homilies are too complex for just listening, thus the blog site for those who want to read them. I’m always wrong about my homilies too—just about every time I think I’ve preached a real dud, I get lots of great feedback. And when I think I’ve preached a real winner—nothing, nada, crickets chirping. Oh well.

Comments? Comments from other preachers particularly welcomed!!

22 December 2005

Mary's hymn, her homily...

4thWeek of Advent (Thurs): I Sam 1.24-28; Luke 1.46-56
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Herald, immaculate vessel, handmaid, most blessed among women, bearer of the Word, preacher of God’s grace, Mother of our salvation! At the invitation and assurance of the angel, Gabriel, Mary submits herself to the work of the Lord in her and becomes her Son’s first disciple, the first preacher of the gospel.

Our Blessed Mother preaches with a hymn of praise while visiting the mother of John the Baptist. Elizabeth tells Mary that her child, John, leapt in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice, and Elizabeth blesses Mary. Both Mary and Elizabeth are blessed because the Lord took their trust and made them wondrous signs of His power and favor. Elizabeth, barren with age, and Mary, a virgin, are both pregnant—one with the herald of the Christ and the other with the Christ Himself.

Mary’s hymn of praise, her homily of thanksgiving to the Lord is more than a pious exaltation, more than an explosion of devotional feeling. Mary’s hymn, her homily is a potent witness, an authoritative proclamation of Who the Lord Is for us, Who the Lord Will Be for us always. Mary’s witness is not just about the miracle of her virginal womb giving life to the Christ Child; her witness is about the constant presence and work of God in His creation from Day One, about the enduring love and forgiveness He has shown His people since their creation. Mary’s hymn, her homily is a sung testament to all those moments in human history where the Lord has put His hand into events and shaped them, put His hand into our time for our benefit—to call us back, to call us forward, to call us away from rebellion, despair, anxiety, sin.

Mary’s hymn, her homily is a sung record of salvation history, more than just a recitation of events, it is a lyric, a poem to the unfolding plan of God for us—one moment in a particular time to reveal all time to us. Mary reveals a divine attitude, a divine vision for all creation, all human life. Her intimate contact with the Spirit of the Lord has exalted her soul, magnified her spirit—enlarged, expanded, widened, made great her understanding of His plan. He is mercy, strength, justice, abundance. He is merciful, strong, just, generous. He wipes away our sins, defends the weak against the strong, balances debt and forgiveness, distributes freely everything that is good, holy, true, and beautiful. Our Lord is All: all we need, all we want; everything we have or can be is His. With gratitude we will lay claim to His legacy for us, and we will flourish in the blessings that flow from our humility.

Advent is a season of promises, made and fulfilled. The promise of the coming of the Lord: the promise made to Abraham and the promise fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Mary took the word of an angel that her virginal womb would bear a son, the Savior promised by the Prophets. Elizabeth, barren in her old age, also believed a promise and gave the world Christ’s herald. These last few days of Advent are days of promise, the expectation—the sure knowledge—that our Father will be with us, Emmanuel, Mighty God, Merciful King. At the fulfillment of His promise, we can sing with our Blessed Mother: “Our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord; our spirits rejoice in God our savior!”

Greet our Savior in his mother’s womb, in his manger, on the mountain, in the desert, greet him on the sorrowful way, on the cross, greet him and thank him for keeping his advent promise, his promise of mercy. Then, then we are mighty witnesses, authoritative testaments to the power and favor of our God in our lives. Sing your witness! Don’t whisper. Proclaim your promise! Don’t mutter.
Make known the mercy God has done for you.

20 December 2005

Make him flesh and bone...

4th Week of Advent (Tues): Is 7.10-14; Luke 1.26-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

How will you (we) announce the arrival of the Lord to the world?

John the Baptist is the ardent herald of the Christ Child’s coming. Gabriel, sent by God to Mary, announces the presence of the Lord. And Mary, her troubled spirit settled by the prophetic words of the angel, becomes the gospel’s first preacher, her Son’s first disciple.

John heralds the Lord’s advent. Gabriel proclaims His presence. And Mary brings him into flesh. John comes before, out of the desert waste, to wash the willing hearers of his words clean with water baptism. Gabriel, dispatched by God to Nazareth, comes to Mary, a virgin, with a frightful greeting: “The Lord is with you.” And Mary, made anxious by the angelic greeting, questions the Lord’s messenger, hears his word, and comes to the Lord accepting of her purpose, given over wholly to His plan. John heralds his coming. Gabriel proclaims his arrival. Mary gives him flesh and bone.

How will you (we) announce the arrival of the Lord to the world?

The Annunciation in Luke’s gospel is a moment of historic convergence. Look at the characters in this drama: God Himself, the Archangel Gabriel, King David, Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. Look at the action: Mary’s humble acceptance of the announcement of her motherhood and the Incarnation of the Son of God, his arrival in the flesh among us. Look at the consequences: the salvation of all creation, the commencement of our graced lives toward holiness, toward perfection in Him.

This is the beginning of our end.

Not our demise. But our purpose, our goal, the last moment we are enslaved by sin. At Mary’s yes, we are freed. Mary preaches, “May it be done to me according to your word.” And it was. And now we rejoice and give thanks to our Mother for her generosity, her humility, and her last sacrifice.

How will you (we) announce the arrival of the Lord to the world? John heralds the Lord. Gabriel proclaims his presence. Mary gives him flesh.

If we will herald the arrival of the Lord, we will not run from the hard moments of witness, those difficult times when speaking about Christ to others puts us clearly on the outside. We will firmly, boldly, even dramatically herald the Lord’s coming against any and all opposition, never bending to political or cultural expediency, and never counting the costs of speaking his word.

If we will proclaim the presence of the Lord, we will live now our eternal lives yet to come; we will live the perfection we are promised, fully aware of our failings and celebrating God’s rich mercy. We will be messengers of the Spirit, vehicles of the Lord’s gifts, the media of grace. And we will exude trust in the Lord, outshining every anxiety, every fear.

If we will give flesh and bone to the Lord, we will become Christ for others. We will take seriously our progress in holiness, our growth into the divine, preaching and teaching what Christ preached and taught. We will say to God, “May it done to me according to your word” and we will become that Word, spoken and made flesh, preached aloud and taught in action.

Herald his coming. Proclaim his presence. Make him flesh and bone. Giving yourself wholly to His Word.

14 December 2005

One Name and no other...

Memorial of St. John of the Cross: Is 45.6-8, 21-25; Luke 7.18-23
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory & The Church of the Incarnation

I am the Lord and there is no other. There is one name to call out in our distress. There is one name to call out in praise and thanksgiving. Just one name to lift up, to hold up before the world; one name to clear the way, to straighten the path, and one name to heal the sick, to bring justice to the oppressed; and one name to proclaim as the Good News of the kingdom. One. Just one. And no other.

John the Baptist sends his students to find out from Jesus if he is the “one who is to come.” What John is expecting from the Messiah is something like an apocalyptic rescue for the people of God, a fiery reformation of the nation and temple. Rotting away in prison, John is longing for the righteous justice of his Lord, an angry war against the oppression of foreign invaders and their domestic collaborators. His life has been the proclamation of the coming of the Lord and the preaching of a baptism of repentance, a baptism in water to turn away from sin, away from injustice toward the Lord. John’s has been a lone voice, a single voice crying out the name of the Lord, and now he wants to know from the lips of Jesus himself, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back to John and witness to him what they have seen. No battles, no fiery rescues, no lightning strikes from heaven, no plagues thrown at the enemy—just restoration, correction, healing, and the unwavering proclamation of the Good News of the Lord’s freely offered salvation. Jesus’ public witness is the restoration of what has been corrupted, the correction of what has gone awry, the healing of the diseased back to trust, and his own declaration of his mission as the One Anointed.

On the prophetic tongue of Isaiah, the Lord places His own testimony to Who He Is for us and to us. He is the creator of the light and the darkness, of well-being and woe. He is the designer of heaven and earth, the author of justice and our salvation. He is the Creator of all that is—everything we need, everything we are! He is God and there is no other.

This is the time, these few weeks before the feast of Christmas, to lift up to the Lord everything we have, everything we are. To hold up before Him our blindness, our sufferings, our diseases, all the evil spirits we fight; to hold before Him our doubts, our anxieties, our injustices, all those times we have turned a deaf ear to His Word. This is the time we look for the One Who Is To Come and no other—no other god, no other lord, no other power, nothing else at all to be our health and our salvation.

From the prophetic tongue of Isaiah to the heralding witness of John the Baptist, the hope, the true expectation of the coming of the Lord has been announced and the Good News told again and again. The Lord has come. The Lord is coming. Blessed are they who come in the name of the Lord. And blessed is the one who takes no offense. Wait, wait, wait. And wait. Trembling at the coming of the Lord.

13 December 2005

Invincible ignorance...

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr: Zeph 3.1-2, 9-13; Matt 21.28-32
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory

What do we refuse to believe?

“I gotta go see a man about a dog.” Dr. Flynn would say this to any of us who refused to see the plain logic of his arguments in class. Most of us in his classes suffered from a terrible affliction, a disease that deludes one into believing that one is as smart as Aristotle after having passed just one philosophy classes. We all suffered from SPMS—Sophomore Philosophy Major Syndrome. Like dieting vultures, we’d circle his evidence, pick at his premises, and bicker over the scrapes of his conclusions, searching desperately for the single mistake that would vindicate our deeply suspicious yet oh-so-shallow minds. Finally, frustrated beyond reason, Dr. Flynn would bark at us: “I gotta go see a man about a dog!” Once again, we had demonstrated the most telling symptom of SPMS: invincible ignorance, an unbeatable lack of knowing, a willful stupidity.

Jesus is having a similar problem with the chief priests and elders. Obviously frustrated to his limit with their suspicion, their opposition, Jesus puts to them a question about the difference between agreeing to the Father’s will and actually doing the Father’s will. Jesus asks the priests and elders, “Which one did his father’s will?” The one who refuses to work but does so anyway or the one who agrees to work but doesn’t? They answer, “The first.” Correct! How obvious. How utterly plainly true. And so, Jesus congratulates them on their correct answer, right? Nope. He blasts them: “…tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you…” They will not believe.

The problem with the chief priests and the elders is that they have all the evidence in front of them: the Law, the Prophets, the witness of John the Baptist, Jesus’ preaching, teaching, and his miracles, the witness of hundreds of people who have followed him and still, still they refuse to believe. They refuse to suspend their disbelief long enough to allow the Spirit to work on their hearts and minds. Why? Social status, religious power, fear of public humiliation, investment in an ideology, all of the above? Probably. Invincible ignorance? Most definitely. They simply refuse to be enlightened by God’s grace, refuse to believe that they were standing in the presence of their Lord.

We’re all here this morning, so we’re obviously not completely invincibly ignorant! But what is it we’re not convinced of? What lingers to poison the well of our faith? We have the Big Issues covered: God exists. Jesus is the Messiah. Trinity. Passion-Death-Resurrection. Got all that. So, what, what is it? Are you convinced of the truth of your freely given salvation? The futility of trying to earn God’s love, His grace? Are you convinced of the truth of forgiveness, God’s mercy? The necessity of loving one another? Are you convinced of the need to humble yourself, truly practice your dependency on God for everything? The efficacy of prayer? The need for prayer? Are you convinced of the authority of the Church to define the faith? That you will live with God forever if you believe and do His will?

Tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Some believed him deeply enough to give their lives in witness to his love. St. Lucy bled for him not because his logical syllogisms were neatly ordered and argued. She bled because she believed. She didn’t wait for proof. Her belief made sense of everything. Perfect, loving sense.

Change your minds! And believe him!

11 December 2005

Rejoice! Pray! And wait...

3rd Sunday of Advent (2005): Is 61.1-2, 10-11; I Thes 5. 16-24; John 1.6-8, 19-28
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Rejoice always and pray without ceasing! On this Rejoicing Sunday: are you joyful? Do you delight in the Lord?

“I give up! Go ahead!! Put out the plastic Santas and put on the Perry Como Christmas CD! I guess we’ll be putting out the Easter bunnies and the marshmallow chicks half-way through Lent next year too!”

No doubt you, like me, are exhausted from resisting the pressure to launch into the coming feast of Christmas. You’re tired from arguing with roommates, friends, family about when to put up the tree, when to play those catchy little carols about snow and reindeer and jingly bells.

The other friars at the priory and the student workers in Campus Ministry call me the Advent Nazi b/c I resist the predictable encroachment of Christmas into our Advent season. We have four weeks to wait, four weeks to walk that thin line between the promise of salvation and His coming. We have four weeks to sharpen our sense of anticipation, our sense of hunger for the Lord before He arrives. Jumping ahead is cheating; it spoils the delight of Christmas by peaking the season too early. Arriving at the Christmas feast bloated from stuffing ourselves during Advent is not only sad but sorely lacking in gratitude!

This is why, in an earlier time in the Church when Advent was celebrated as a truly penitential season, the Third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, was a sort of release valve, a kind of moment of reprieve from Winter’s Lent when the anticipated joy of Christmas was let loose for a solemn celebration, just one day of rejoicing to better sweeten the wait for His coming. This Sunday picked out the joy of our wait, the delight in our slow progress toward salvation and holiness.

And so, on this Rejoicing Sunday, I ask you: are you joyful? Do you truly delight in the Lord?

John the Baptist is pelted with questions from the priests and Levites sent to pester him from Jerusalem. They want to know who he is, what he is, exactly who does he claim to be. They want to know what he has to say for himself so that they can report back to their superiors. He denies being a prophet. He denies being Elijah for whom the Jews still wait to return. He denies being the Christ. And says simply, “I am the voice of one crying in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” And then he tells the Pharisees that he comes before one whose sandal he is not worthy to untie.

John is one who walks before, announcing in his life and with his voice the arrival of the Lord, and trumpets the advent of Christ, heralds the coming of the world’s salvation and rejoices in the Word made flesh. He is Joy in filthy sackcloth, joy with matted hair and locust wings stuck in his teeth. He is Joy with honey-sticky whiskers and unceasing prayer on his aromatic breath. Without pride or ambition for exaltation, John steps up and walks ahead, witnessing for the Lord his arrival, washing clean of sin anyone who comes forward to submit themselves to the long wait for paradise, the lengthy road to perfection. John delights now as he did when he leapt in his mother’s womb when his mother met Christ’s mother. He delights in being the one to show the way, the one to ring out the good news, the one to see the Lord first and point to him as Savior, King. John is joy, and he delights in Christ his Savior.

Are you joyful? Do you delight in the Lord? I do not ask this lightly. All of us are here this evening because we have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to worship the Lord in spirit and truth, to offer Him praise and thanksgiving, to hear His Word proclaimed and preached, and to celebrate the sacrament of our salvation in the sacrifice of the altar. Whatever push, pull, lure, divine seduction or bribe got you here, you’re here, and I want you to ask yourself: Am I joyful? Do I delight in the Lord?

I’m not asking you if you’re giddy-happy all the time. I’m not asking you if you are a happy-clappy, sugar-sweet, Christian smiley face 24/7. To be joyful is to find final satisfaction, the end of longing, the consummation of desire; it is to live as fully in the Spirit now as is possible short of heaven itself; to live as fully in Christ now as is possible before His coming again. To be joyful as a Christian is to be satiated with the love of God, stuffed to the brim with the peace that surpasses all understanding, wringing wet with the waters of baptism and downright greasy with the oils of anointing. To delight in and to enjoy Christ is to see, hear, taste, feel, smell, think, emote, live through Christ, in Christ, with Christ. To rejoice always and to pray without ceasing!

Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely—spirit, soul, and body—be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord.” God can make us perfectly holy, wholly, completely perfect and preserve us entirely, fully without blame, without guilt while we wait on the coming of the Lord. For this blessing, we need to pray in thanksgiving, in humility, we need to pray the will of God for us. We feed the Spirit, delight our souls, and know better and better what is good and what is evil.

And we need, want to show our joy, witness to our delight out there. Like John, our joy, our delight shines out, attracts, seduces, lures; our joy, our delight raises questions among the doubtful, nurtures worries among the ungodly, and frightens the self-righteous. Our joy in the Lord and our delight in our Savior draws people to God, brings them to His mercy and forgiveness, and shows them the Way to salvation, to Jesus Christ. Our joy, our delight is the word spoken in the wilderness of our world, the shout of glad tidings in the desert of our culture’s deathwish. When we bear witness to the Father’s free offer of healing, of liberty and release, of favor and vindication, we step up as ready voices, eager tongues to proclaim His coming again.

Are you joyful? Do you delight in the Lord? On this Rejoicing Sunday, we are given the quick chance to dip our fingers into the coming Christmas feast and to taste just a bit of what’s coming. Resist the temptation to move too quickly, to gallop to the feast. Rush to repentance, of course. But do not wallow in a morose preoccupation with your sin. Name it! Confess it! Be done with it. And wait and wait and wait, joyful and delighted, filled to the top with the mercy of God, with the blessings of the Spirit. Rejoice always! And pray without ceasing!

09 December 2005

Happy Meal spirituality...

2nd Week of Advent 2005 (Fri): Is 48.17-19; Matt 11.16-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Not a flattering picture, is it? Jesus compares his generation to fickle children trying to entertain one another in the marketplace: they play joyful music and no one dances, mournful music and no one cries. They complain bitterly to one another because the entertainment is ignored, unappreciated. You can almost see their energetic boredom, their restless hunger to be amused, diverted—show us something fun, something wild and crazy! Their attention owned by the flashiest sight, the loudest noise, the most daring stunt. They are a generation of vacillating thrill seekers, a generation given over to the inconsistency of their passion for the next bright-shiny thing, the next pretty novelty, the next whatever it is that they haven’t seen before.

Jesus is worried that his generation lacks wisdom, that there is a spirit of folly animating those who watch him and expect to be entertained, those who follow him but do so only to see a show. This fickleness is a sign that an abiding wisdom eludes them, that they have sold themselves to the arena, the theater of foolishness, and squander their lives on the silliness of spectacle.

This fickle generation rejects John because of his asceticism—no eating, no drinking—and they reject Jesus because of his generosity—a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Every face of redemption shown them, they reject. Every opportunity given to them to come to wisdom seems somehow wrong, not quite to their taste. Jesus’ frustration with their folly is clear in his irritated tone: “But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Of course, Jesus’ vision is broader than one generation. No doubt he is looking forward and watching generation after generation fall into the same temptation to pull wisdom down from the altar and replace it with foolish novelties, silly entertainments. Is there a generation that hasn’t done this? Has there been a time in the Church when we weren’t distracted by the empty promises of the Lie and our attention taken away from the Word? Probably not. But I think we’ve gotten a lot better at distilling the silliness into more intense moments of fleeting sensation, much better at staging the drama—the tragedies and the comedies—of our hungry lives into bigger, brighter, better funded orgies of spiritually useless consumption.

Our way out, of course, is Jesus—to be true followers, to get in behind him and walk his path, his narrow way, to our perfection in holiness. Isaiah preaches to us, prophesies for us that it is the Lord, our God, who will teach us what is good and who will lead us on the way we should go. He promises prosperity and vindication, great success and justification, if we will listen to the Lord’s will for us, pay attention to His plan for us and follow Him. God’s wisdom for us will be justified in the works He does for us, with us, and through us.

John’s penitential austerity and Jesus extravagant love, the precursor and the consummation of our salvation, demands a more focused attention, a weightier commitment than all the spiritual entertainments of this generation: New Age non-sense, self-help psychobabble, do-it-my-way-Catholicism, and the cult of narcissistic, material acquisition. What feeds us, fills us finally, is the Lord’s feast of wisdom, His party of eternal goods laid out for us, given to us to satisfy that gnawing hunger, that deep rumbling of need that pushes us toward the easy fill, the quick snack.
Who, but a fool, eats the Happy Meal when the All-You-Can-Eat buffet of the Lord is right here, free of charge?

08 December 2005

The most dangerous announcement...

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Gen 3.9-15, 20; Eph 1.3-6, 11-12; Luke 1.26-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Madonna Hall, University of Dallas

It is the most dangerous announcement ever made: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” The angel Gabriel, sent by God to Mary, greets the virgin by telling her that she is most graced, wholly blessed, chosen, and attended by the Lord. Very, very dangerous. And Mary knew this: “But she was greatly troubled…” 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 a mortal end, a life for her of singular graces, an honored life of doing the Father’s will for His glory. Dangerous? You bet!

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 nation redeemed. 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.[1] 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.

When we took on the responsibility of bearing the Word to the world—when we became preachers—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 causes 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 becoming common enough. 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 unswervingly to God’s mercy, unswervingly 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.”

[1] See Prayer, Hans Urs von Balthasar, 157.

04 December 2005

We ought to be prophets!

2nd Sunday of Advent (2005): Is 40.1-5, 9-11; 2 Pet 3.8-14; Mark 1.1-8
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Here comes with power the Lord God! Do not fear but cry out: “Here is your God!” Cry out at the top of your voice, “Good News! Prepare the way of the Lord!” Straighten the road in the wasteland. Fill in every valley. Make every mountain and hill low. And then, and then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. He is patient with us, wishing that we should come to repentance and not perish. But He is coming to judge, and He will come, stealing back into history like a thief quietly stealing into a house. And when he does, the heavens will pass away in thunder, the elements will melt in fire, and “the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” Since the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and the heavens and the earth shall be dissolved at His coming, what sort of persons ought we to be? (Repeat)

Advent is a penitential season. And it is a season of rejoicing. We turn out our sins and expose them to the Lord’s fierce grace, and we rejoice at the promise of His coming. We take stock of the time we’ve spent so far, and we offer to God for blessing the time we have left. Repent and rejoice. Convert and sing praise. Confess and follow righteousness. Prepare His way in your heart, your mind, your body and your soul. Lay a clear path to the center of your covenant with Him, open the gates of your reason for His light, make a gift of your flesh for His works of compassion and your soul an offering of immortal praise. Now, now is the time for searching faults and finding mercy, for opening wounds and finding health. Now is the time to straighten your path to God. “Here comes with power the Lord God!”

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

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

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

It is not enough that we acknowledge our sins, wash in the baptismal waters, and come spotless to God. Our acknowledgement of sin, our willingness to be found without blemish, must produce good fruit. Being good in theory builds lovely temples in the air. Doing good for show makes good theatre. But airy temples blow away and the curtain falls on even the best theatre! Living our lives as a prophetic witnesses, now that’s the sort of folks we ought to be!

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

So, what does being prophetic mean? Let’s look at John. He comes out of the desert, a desolate place, a place devoid of life. He finds his voice there. Outside family, friends, culture, and civilization, John finds a voice to proclaim the Coming Christ. He doesn’t use this voice to promote himself. He speaks of Another. He doesn’t prepare the way for his own celebrity. He celebrates Christ. He doesn’t try to make his own life easier by claiming some sort of divine connection. He makes the paths straight for the Lord. He doesn’t try to “fit in” or blend in or “inculturate.” He preaches against the cultural grain, against the prevailing ethic. He is not concerned about being comfortable with his role or finding satisfaction in his ministry or being a team player. His is a lonely voice. He does not coddle the legalists or the revolutionaries, the lawyers or the trendy academics. He calls them to repentance and a life of good fruits. He points again and again to Christ, the mightier One, the One Who Comes to baptize in the Spirit. Always pointing toward Christ, always toward Jesus. And that is what a prophet does.

Absolutely, we ought to be prophets. We are ready to be a prophets if we will acknowledge our sin. Repent. Turn around. Face God. Produce good fruit first and then expect it from others. Live waiting on the Lord, at peace; and proclaim with every word, every act: “Prepare! Christ is coming”

03 December 2005

The infinitives of the Dominican Order...

St. Francis Xavier: I Cor 9.16-19, 22-23; Mark 16.15-20
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Laudare! Benedicere! Praedicare! To praise, to bless, to preach. The infinitives of the Dominican Order! To offer grateful homage to God, to proclaim as holy, to speak the Word—the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. And the Word abiding in our hearts, pulling and pushing to be freed, gnawing at the bit for leave to run wild. That founding desire to find Christ, to offer him blessing and praise, and to witness for him by speaking his Word, that desire is the beat of our souls, the music that moves us through a day and day-to-day to the end. It is the desire, soaked through muscle and skin and hair and bone at our creation, the desire to live right now in his spirit and to live forever with him in the final vision of Beauty Himself. What gives us life, what animates us, sparks us to being grateful creatures of an abounding Father is the bursting want of Him, His Word, and the privilege of speaking that Word in witness!

Before he left his students and after, Jesus ordered those who followed him to move away from the familiar, the comfortable, and the predictable and to move toward the alien, the discomforting, and the wild. He said to them over and over again that preaching and teaching his Good News to the ravening wolves of this world would mean pain, isolation, and persecution. Never once did he promise them adulation or fame. Ridicule and infamy, yes, but never popularity or celebrity.

Why? The Good News offers an austere choice. Jesus says to his disciples: “Whoever believes [the Gospel] and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” This stark dichotomy between eternal life and eternal condemnation strikes the postmodern ear as hateful exclusion, a limitation on our options, and deadly to expanding possibilities. And our postmodern ears are hearing exactly right. The black line distinction that Jesus draws between believing his Good News and dismissing it is exactly the distinction between living our lives as the Word and living our lives as the Lie.

We take on new life in the Word at baptism. We are confirmed in that life by the Spirit. And we approach the altar of sacrifice to eat His body and drink His blood, to consume the Word so that we will be brought to perfection as the Word. To believe this and to preach it in our lives day-to-day is to live right now the promise of the coming kingdom. To believe and preach, as students of the Lord, anything else is to live right now the promise of condemnation, to accept the Lie and to die as slaves to the enemy forever.

If this seems too much, too hard that’s because it is. Preaching the Good News is not for the fluttering heart or the pallid soul left alone. Jesus knew his students. And he knows us. He promised them and he promises us the contempt of the worldly wise. So what? He also promised to place on our tongues the words of truth to be spoken for his witness, to work in us and through us to show the gospel to anyone who will hear, anyone who will see. So, even a fluttering heart can speak the Word. Even the pallid soul can witness to the Gospel.

Great signs will point the way to Christ’s offer of universal salvation. Be a great sign of his offer. You cannot be a great sign using self-righteous judgment or persnickety legalism or private revelation. Why? We do not own the gospel; we are owned. It is his Word we praise, his Word we bless, and his Word we preach.

Laudare! Benedicere! Praedicare!

02 December 2005


1st Week of Advent (Fri): Is 29.17-24; Matt 9.27-31
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

The PR department at Jesus, Inc., a subsidiary of Pepsi-Co/Time-Warner, is very upset with the current CEO, Jesus Christ. He recently went on a publicity tour to promote his latest book, The Gospel, and performed a miraculous healing on two blind men who were waiting in line to touch his garment. After healing the men, according to their faith, Jesus reportedly said to the men, “See that no one knows about this.” The PR department at Jesus, Inc. found out about the miracles when the two recently healed blind men gave an interview to FOXNews and signed a book contract with Simon & Schuster. When asked about the miracle, Jesus said, “I have no comment at this time. We’ll have a prepared statement at the end of business today.” The blind men cited a gag clause in their book contract. Eye-witness accounts are too wild to be believed. Local scientists dismiss the miracles as mass-hypnosis. The ACLU is suing somebody for something.

It is extraordinarily odd that Jesus would tell the healed men to keep quiet about their healing. It seems odd because we live in a publicity soaked culture where everyday occurrences are turned into Events, complete with combative commentary, rote social analysis, and the predictably provocative questions designed to create news rather than report it. That Jesus would heal two blind men and tell them sternly to shut-up about it is just weird. Of course, they should crow about it! They should dance in the streets! Go tell it on the mountains! Do interviews! Write books! And, they do. They disobey Jesus and spread his gospel.

So, why would Jesus order them to silence? The story of the healed blind men is the middle story of three stories of healing. Jesus heals the woman with the chronic hemorrhaging, the blind men, and man made mute by a demon. The news of his power and compassion spread and the crowds grew larger and larger. Looking at the all the work to be done, Jesus orders his disciples to pray for more laborers for the Lord’s harvest. You can imagine that Jesus ordered the blind men to silence because the work of caring for the growing crowds was daunting, exhausting. But that’s not it.

That this reading from Matthew comes to us during Advent is no accident. It exemplifies for us what Advent is to be: a time of tension between need and fulfillment, emptiness and satisfaction. We celebrate and endure Advent, waiting on an edge with our dis-ease for the healing of the coming of the Lord. The Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, writes: “The creature is a perpetual question addressed to God.” During Advent the human creature lives in a twilight time before the divine falls into flesh, asking of the Lord, “Son of David, have pity on us!” The order to a seasonal silence before the celebration of the Incarnation is the Church’s way of living out our nature as a question to God; we ask and wait, we plead and anticipate.

This time of dawning light is also a time for Jesus to look at us and ask, “Do you believe that I can do this?” Do you trust me to take on your flesh, your suffering, your sin, your death? Do you trust that I will freely accept human form, living as man among you, and die for your healing? We say, “Yes, Lord!” The time between the time we say yes to the Lord and Jesus says, “Let it be done according to your faith” is the deepest silence, the longest season; it is the yawning stop of Advent, the slow tick-tick-tick-tick-tick of life lived waiting on the coming of the Lord.

27 November 2005

Waiting and waiting well...

First Sunday of Advent (2005): Is 63.16-17, 64.2-7; I Cor 1.3-9; Mark 13.33-37
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

The priory coffeemaker is insufferably slow. I have to use the single-cup, express machine. I can recite just about the entire creed waiting for the doors of the priory elevator to open and close. Pushing that little “close door” button makes me feel in control, but I don’t think it’s connected to anything. And I’ve discovered a new species of humanoid living in Irving: we’ve had homo erectus, homo sapiens, and now we have homo cellus phonus—a species of humanoid incapable of driving a car w/o a cell phone stuck to its ear. A habit that apparently robs the poor creatures of colored sight. They seem incapable of recognizing red from yellow from green at traffic lights. Yes, Father has Patience Issues. I bet you do too.

So, let me ask you this question: do you wait well? I mean, are you able to pause in your day and give control of your time to something or someone else? A machine (the reluctant computer, the lazy coffeemaker, the elevator in no hurry at all) or a person (the cashier discussing his break time with a coworker, the SUV driver chatting on the cell phone stopped at the green light)? Can you hold your yourself in suspension, just stop and let something or someone else’s agenda, their needs, their wants, their time take precedence? Because that’s what waiting is. Waiting is what I (we do) do when I bring myself to acknowledge that my agenda, my needs, my wants, my time are subject to change, subject to the whims and quirks of other people, the random workings of machines, the weather, and the markets. Pretty much any and everything out there that can run interference on my plans does so, and so I wait, giving over to the hard fact that I am subject to other people, other things.

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

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

Advent is penitential.

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

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

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

And so we wait. But do we wait well? Waiting is how we give to one another some measure of control, some small piece of power over us in order to admit that we are twined inextricably with those who live beside us. I know men and women who strain their lives to the edge of sanity to avoid admitting to themselves or anyone else that they need others or are needed by others. Their false self-sufficiency poisons everything they do, everything they are, and they slowly disappear into the myth of individualism, shrink into ghosts who haunt the community with their hunger for attention but will not yield even the smallest moment of control, the meanest instance of isolation and pride. They cannot wait well on the Lord b/c they cannot live lives of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and praise.

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

This next week, walk with strict attention the line between reparation and thanksgiving, between confession and praise, between wailing and rejoicing. And wait watchful for the coming of the Lord. Let him find you in need of his salvation, ready to be forgiven in repentance, and impatient to offer him thanks.

25 November 2005

It is not then yet...

34th Week OT (Fri): Dan 7.2-14; Luke 21.29-33
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

As we stumble headfirst into our winter of repentance and waiting, Jesus warns us again and again that that which we hope for, that which gives our faith its substance, is coming, and it is bringing with it much trouble. This week alone we have heard Jesus prophesy the destruction of the Temple, describe signs of the end times (“Nation will rise against nation…”), warn the disciples of their impending persecution for his namesake, warn again of the Great Tribulation, the desolation of Jerusalem by foreign armies. And just as it appears that all of creation has fallen to the destruction of the unclean sword, the Son of Man will come in power and great glory! With heads and hands held high, we are to welcome our redemption with rejoicing and sighs of relief.

But it is not then yet. Soon. Jesus teaches his disciples to learn from the fig tree, watch its growth, its blossoming. You know that summer has arrived when the fig tree and all the other trees burst open their blossoms. The winter of repentance and waiting is over then. The signs tell us that our summer of fulfillment and glorification is at hand: the fig tree and all the other trees are heavy with fruiting-flowers; the perfumed air is breathless, knowing the kingdom and its King are near. But it is not then yet.

It seems that we have become accustomed to waiting for the arrival of the Kingdom—waiting on the Christmas Incarnation during Advent and waiting on the Easter Resurrection during Lent—perhaps we are not a “Pilgrim Church on a Journey” after all but rather a “Loitering Church in Waiting.” Perhaps, like the seasons, we move as a Church from peak to peak with anticipation and endure the valleys with patience. There is a great hurry in our waiting, an urgency in our lingering. Can one be patiently eager? Contently edgy? Vibrating with calm expectation?

Yes! To be alive as a child of God, a son or daughter of the Father, is to be quaking with barely contained hope, nearly bursting with an anticipation of glory, fulfillment, and final perfection. We are coiled energy, tightly wound springs of rejoicing, of acclamation, of praise and worship ready to leap, ready to burst free, and proclaim Christ the King, Christ the Savior. We are heirs, sons and daughters, much-loved children, family in Christ and to one another. We come here everyday to be reminded of this. When it is forgotten, so are we.

Persecutions and trials and tribulations do not matter. They will come in their time, and do their damage. They always have. We are promised by Christ that if we preach his gospel, trials and betrayals will follow like spring follows the winter. They are inevitable. A Word of Conversion hurts the ear. It challenges the sacred cows of postmodernity, the untouchable orthodoxies of the secular temple: identity politics, narcissistic spiritualities, cults of violence and persecution, and the tallest totem of contemporary American culture, the unholy trinity of Choice-License-Irresponsibility.

But the fig tree will bloom. So will the oaks and cedars and magnolias. They will come to us as signs, signs to strengthen our hearts and minds to pray and to remember that we are most alive as Children of the Father when we live as His Son lived and rejoice in our salvation with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps with just a little trembling we can look at the devils of our world and say to them: “Bring it on!” It’s just a matter of time now. Just a matter of waiting, knowing the promise of our salvation has been made and fulfilled.

Lift hands and hearts in rejoicing!
The words of our Lord will not pass away!

23 November 2005

Swearing off Jesus...

34th Week OT: Luke 21.12-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

If there is a temptation that we must resist now it is the temptation to witness to a gospel that Jesus did not teach. There are lots of gospels floating around out there, a whole pantheon of alien gospels waiting to be proclaimed and preached. We are told that there are hidden gospels waiting to be found, secret gospels waiting to be exposed, encoded gospels waiting to be de-coded, and even suppressed gospels waiting to be liberated from oppressive, phallocentric hierarchies! There are Gospels of Wealth and Health, Gospels of Socio-Political Liberation, Gospels of Self-Actualization, Gospels of Process, Gospels of Earth…there are as many gospels as there are itchy ears to scratch and wandering eyes to entertain.

The temptation for us is to see this circus of competing gospels as evidence of an urbane tolerance for difference, an elegant celebration of diversity in a marketplace of competing spiritualities. We are tempted to swear off Jesus and his gospel for the promise of respectability in a culture that would rather see us just go away. Or, failing that, throw us to the machines of pop religious culture and watch us be eaten alive and slowly digested in the corrosive juices of undifferentiated “religious expression” or “theological plurality.”

But what are the chances that we will be persecuted for preaching a gospel of diversity? Or a gospel of radical inclusion? Or a gospel of openness, acceptance, and affirmation? What are the chances? Zero. Because we are promised that we will be persecuted for preaching the gospel that Jesus preached. Did he preach diversity, radical inclusion, openness, acceptance, and affirmation? Yes. But he preached a gospel of conversion first, that is, he preached that we must first acknowledge our sinfulness in the full light of the gospel truth, make a decision to turn from that sin, come to the Father in his name, receive the forgiveness that we receive in His mercy, and then live lives of holiness as apostolic witnesses.

To make this arduous religious work possible, he died for us. All of us. He took on flesh, suffered, died, and rose from the dead—for us. All of us. He died so that anyone—anyone!—who comes to the Father in his name, repentant of sin, will be saved. That’s the radical inclusiveness of the gospel—the openness of his sacrifice to every tribe, language, people, and nation; the affirmation that every human soul is salvageable, loved; the acceptance of anyone who comes in his name, claiming the Father’s mercy.

As preachers of the gospel of Jesus, we must resist the temptation to sell-out, to give ourselves easily to the machines of pop culture and narcissistic religion. I hesitate to say that persecution is a sign of faithfulness, but you have to ask: if we are loved and celebrated by a culture of death, a culture that glorifies in its laws and customs rebellion against God, then what does that say about our witness? We do not need to drop into some sort of primitive Us vs. Them way of thinking about our culture and faith. But it must be clear to us that the gospel Jesus preached and the gospel that we are vowed to preach unsettles the secular establishment and makes those who would see us co-opted a bit edgy. Jesus says of his gospel and our witness to it: “It will lead to your giving testimony.” What will we testify to? What have we experienced in Christ that must be spoken?

The Good News is that we will not be alone to testify. Jesus says, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

Thanks be to God for faithful hearts!
Thanks be to God for strong minds!
And Thanks be to God for tongues of fire!

18 November 2005

House of prayer, house of thieves...

33rd Week OT (Fri): I Mc 4.36-37, 52-59; Luke 19.45-48
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

When is the church a house of prayer and when is it a den of thieves? What is prayer and what is thievery? Prayer is asking God to bless us with what we need. Thievery is taking unjustly from others what we think we need. The former is an act of humility; the latter an act of violence against humility and charity. The church is a house of prayer when it is a place for God’s people to gather to ask Him for what they need in humility and to offer Him worship in justice. The church is a den of thieves when it becomes a place for God’s people to take from Him what is not theirs in justice, a place of pride and apathy. What can we possibly steal from God in His own church? The lives that are rightly His! My life, your life, the lives of those given to God in blood, desire, and water.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem with a little righteous anger brewing and hits the temple area like a desert whirlwind. Laying hold of his prophetic authority, Jesus, quoting Isaiah and Jeremiah, calls the temple a house of prayer that has been made into a den of thieves. To cleanse the temple of thievery, he drives out those who have turned his Father’s place of worship into a marketplace for Mammon. Now cleansed, the temple becomes his place for teaching, a place for proclaiming and preaching the Word—a place where the people gather to hang on Jesus’ every word. In this one movement, this single display of righteous indignation, Jesus has redefined the church for us, reconceived what it means for his people to gather, to hear the Word, to worship in spirit and truth, and to live in the abiding presence of God day-to-day, hour-to-hour.

When the People of God, the Body of Christ, come together to offer praise and thanksgiving, to offer up petitions and intercessions, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When the Word is proclaimed and preached and the sacrifice of thanksgiving made on the altar and in the heart, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When we gather to give to God what is His in justice, that which we owe Him as a matter of covenant and elemental desire, that is, our lives, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When the house of the Lord is a house of prayer, it is a time and place of distilled righteousness, a time away from time, a place away from place, where and when we eat God and are eaten.

We don’t just hang on his words in prayer; we hang on his cross, offering to God what has been His gift to us from the beginning: our love, our adoration, our very lives.

The house of the Lord becomes a den of thieves when we withhold, keep back our assent and our surrender; when we reserve for later, another when and where, the desire we were created to bring into flesh. When we choose, freely, the stingy path of hoarding for later our desire to be with God forever, that is, storing up our YES, tucking away our FIAT, we steal from Him what is rightly His. And deny ourselves everything we can be for Him.

To worship in spirit and truth, to adore Him with our strength in joy, to be seduced by His hope, cherished in His love, and brought forever to live in His beauty—that’s prayer! That’s justice! That’s the only reason I can think of to be here at all.

16 November 2005

Symposium on the 40th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council

The Moral Theology of the Liturgy: Ecclesia de eucharistia and theosis

Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
University of Dallas
November 16, 2006

(NB. This is the text for a presentation I gave at the University of Dallas commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. )

One way to approach to this topic is to talk about the liturgy of the Church as instructive for the moral life of the Christian, that is, to explore how Roman Catholic liturgy, particularly the liturgy of the Eucharist, is an engine for prayer, a source of and guide to holiness, and a push outward toward the evangelization of the world. Though all of this true, it doesn’t go far enough.

In this brief presentation, I will argue that the Church’s liturgy is more than moral pedagogy, more than spiritual refreshment, and more than exhortation to be socially just. It is the Christian life brought to concentration, highly focused, and distilled into a moment of moral clarity, an instant where the divine and the human meet in a transformative act of sacrifice, an act of sanctification through assent and surrender; in other words, the Church’s liturgy is that moment and that place where the human person meets his/her final end: divinization, theosis, a transfiguration of the merely human into the perfectly human.
This is not simply a reorientation of the Christian’s moral life toward “being good” behaviorally. Nor is it simply a refurbishing of a dilapidated but serviceable moral house. If we take seriously the prayer of the Church’s liturgy, particularly the prayer of the Mass, we cannot help but come away from its celebration stunned by what we have experienced, overwhelmed by what we have committed ourselves to, and driven by an almost ecstatic desire to be Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the world.

My thesis, then, is: the liturgy of the Church is the time and place when and where we meet ourselves as God created us to be forever.

I. The terms

I take as my working definition of “moral theology” the definition offered by Pope John Paul II in his 1993 letter, Veritatis splendor:

The Church's moral reflection…has also developed in the specific form of the theological science called “moral theology,” a science which accepts and examines Divine Revelation while at the same time responding to the demands of human reason. Moral theology is a reflection concerned with “morality,” with the good and the evil of human acts and of the person who performs them...But it is also ``theology,'' inasmuch as it acknowledges that the origin and end of moral action are found in the One who “alone is good” and who, by giving himself to man in Christ, offers him the happiness of divine life. (29)

Unpacking this a bit we get the following definition: moral theology is that sort of rational reflection on good and evil human acts that begins with the reality of God’s self-revelation—scripture, creation, Christ—and attempts to assess the degree to which human acts succeed or fail in promoting progress toward the final end of every human person—“the happiness of divine life.”

“Moral” modifies “theology,” making the phrase “moral theology” connote something more specific (and substantial) than “religious ethics” or “spiritual values.” “Moral” has to do with an already acknowledged distinction between what is right and what is wrong, or what promotes goodness and what promotes evil. “Religious” and “spiritual,” though certainly hinting at something beyond the secular or the material, do not conjure the same sense of clear division between what is right/wrong, good/evil. The “religious” and the “spiritual” are more neutral in their overt commitments to specific judgments about discreet acts performed by the human person. I think what is important about the use of the adjective “moral” here is that it leaves us with the distinct sense that the objects of moral theology are discovered and not created by our rational exploration.

“Theology,” as the term modified by “moral,” is much less ambiguous here precisely because we are discussing moral theology in the context of the Roman Catholic theological tradition. As John Paul II notes in the definition above, theology is the science of examining Divine Revelation by means of human reason. Jean-Pierre Torrell offers an appropriate elaboration:

Before all else, theology is an expression of a God-informed life, an activity in which the virtues of faith, hope, and, charity are given full scope[…]it should be clear that this faith is not pure intellectual adhesion to the collection of truths that occupy the theologian. It is rather, in Saint Thomas as in the Bible, the living attachment of the whole person to the divine reality to which every person is united through faith by means of the formulas that convey that Reality to us. (4)

The connection of faith to the science of theology gives the scientific project its object: God. Again, Torrell notes: “Theology finds in faith not merely its point of departure but also its reason for being. Without faith, not only would theology lack justification, it would have no object[…]only faith allows the theologian to come into possession of his object”(5).

The point of this short excursion into the definition of theology is this: if moral theology is to be useful to us in our exploration of the liturgy, then the theological component must connote a clear commitment to a life of faith. It is not enough that theology be useful here as an instrument for measuring and evaluating claims about the phenomena we collectively call “the divine” or “religious experience.” This is more properly the task of a sociology of religion or a psychology of religious experience. For a moral theology of the liturgy to make sense it must have the same commitment to a life of faith that any other branch of theology in the Roman Catholic tradition has.

The last term to explore briefly is “liturgy.” This is the term that I am least familiar with and most hesitant to tackle. In many ways it is the easiest term to define but has the most complex connotations of the three terms we’ve explored so far. “Liturgy” is the public worship of the Church, or in the case of the Roman Catholic tradition, the public celebration of the sacraments according to the rites of the Church. We all know how inadequate this definition is in the end. Each element of this definition (“public,” “celebration,” sacrament,” “worship,” etc.) carries the weighty baggage of long dispute. So, I will let the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council suggest a use for the term:

For the Liturgy, "through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,” most of all in the Divine Sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” (n. 2)

Liturgy, along with being the public celebration the Church’s sacraments, is the exceptional way that 1) our redemption is accomplished and 2) an exceptional means the faithful use to convey to others the redeeming work of Christ and the nature of the Church. The liturgy is not just the logistics of organizing the particulars of public rites nor is it the acquisition and use of the arcane knowledge associated with color, symbols, fabrics, sacred objects, and incantations. Liturgy, Roman Catholic liturgy, is the where and when of our transformation from fallen into graced humanity, from sinful individuals into the living Body of Christ.

John Paul II’s 2003 letter, Ecclesia de eucharistia, will provide the instigating text for a meditation on what it might mean for us take seriously the radically transformative power of the liturgy, particularly the liturgy of the Eucharist.

II. “until He comes in glory”

The first paragraph of Ecclesia de eucharistia begins: “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church”(1). What does this mean? This is a reaffirmation of the Church’s traditional teaching that the Eucharist forms the sacramental center of our lives as Christians. More forcefully put: our Holy Father is teaching us that the Eucharist is the Church, that is, without the Eucharist, the Church is not—not the Church, non-existent. The truth that the Church draws her life from the Eucharist summarizes the mystery of what the Church is: the living Body of Christ, fed by the paschal meal, transformed by the sacrifice on Calvary, and brought to participate in the Divine Life as fully graced human beings.

Part of the mystery of the Eucharist as a mystery of the church and about the church is how this foundational sacrament brings together the historical meal of the Upper Room and any parish Mass. John Paul writes,

[The Church’s] foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and ‘concentrated’ for ever in the gift of the Eucharist. In this gift Jesus Christ entrusted to His Church the perennial making present of the paschal mystery. With it He brought about a mysterious ‘oneness in time’ between that Triduum and the passage of centuries.”(5)

It is this “making present” in the “oneness of time” that makes the Eucharist the most capable engine for building an ethics strong enough to confront the world. How so? John Paul points to the “cosmic” character of the Eucharist as a starting point: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation”(8). The strength of this arrangement rests on two historical events, the Passion and Easter. Christ’s suffering and death on a cross and his rising from the dead energize the Eucharist across time because these events happened not to a mere human person, but to the Son of God, God Incarnated. That they happened to the God-Man of history means that the events took place temporally and atemporally, in human time passing and in the eternal now.

Our connection to God the Father is made through the sacrifice of the Mass itself, the making present of the original sacrifice for our sakes and the sake of the whole world. Of this connection John Paul writes: “The thought of this leads us to profound amazement and gratitude” (5). And he sees his project in this letter to be the re-establishment and strengthening of that amazement over and against the “shadows” of the world and those shadows that have crept in through ecclesial neglect of the mystery and truth of the Real Presence (10). It is clear that he sees the failure of some to hold and practice the Real Presence, a failure, in other words, to hold to the efficacy of the sacrament, as the darkest shadows cast. And it is in returning the Eucharist as the gift of Christ Himself that we will dispel these hungry shadows.

So, how does John Paul understand sacrifice in light of the Real Presence? Acknowledging that there are various ways to construe the “presence” of Christ, the empowering presence is the Real Presence of Christ, his substantial, abiding “hereness” in the elements of the sacrament (15). The sacrifice of the Eucharist is real inasmuch as Christ’s presence on the altar of sacrifice is real. John Paul writes in language mindful of Trent:

The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it. What is repeated is its memorial celebration, its “commemorative representation,” which makes Christ’s one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time. (12)
Since the sacrifice of the altar is not separable from the sacrifice of Calvary, the sacrifice of the Mass cannot be understood as Christ merely offering himself to the Church as spiritual food. We must understand the sacrifice of the Mass to be “first and foremost a gift to the Father,” the gift of Christ offered by Christ through his Church for the sake of the Church and the world (13).

Having reaffirmed the traditional outlines of the Church’s Eucharistic theology, John Paul moves into less chartered waters in order to tie the sacrifice of the Mass to the larger world by offering to the world a means of living ethically. He characterizes the link between the presenting action of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the broader world as a kind of “eschatological tension”(18). This tension is first felt in the liturgy itself when the assembly acclaims the mysterium fidei, concluding with “until you come in glory.” The tension felt here is the tension between our present state and the possibility of living face-to-face with God in heaven. John Paul writes: “The eschatological tension kindled by the Eucharist expresses and reinforces our communion with the Church in heaven”(19). Rather than directing out limited attention to life after this one, John Paul argues that the tension inherent in the longing for union with God directs us instead to a deeper engagement with our world: “Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of ‘new heavens’ and ‘a new earth,’ but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today”(20). The eschatological tension is best exemplified by the “fruit of a transfigured existence and a commitment to transforming the world in accordance with the Gospel[...]”(20). Here is where the ethics of the Eucharist begins to make sense: transfigured men and women transforming the world according to Gospel values.

If the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ at the sacrifice of the Mass is going to produce evangelical fruit, it seems that two conditions must be met: 1) the presence consumed must be the Real Presence of Christ and 2) the person consuming the presence of Christ must become Christ in and for the world. Though he exhorts the church to celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist (its Real Presence, sacrifice, and banquet) in a way that “does not allow reduction or exploitation,” he also exhorts the man and woman taking communion not to reduce or exploit their reception of the mystery by failing to live lives structured by gospel integrity. And this is the key to understanding how John Paul envisions the church functioning with the world without being overwhelmed by it. Two elements must always balance within the Church as the Body of Christ: first, the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist must be maintained because the salvific efficacy of the sacrament depends on the Real Presence; and second, the celebration and reception of the mystery must drive the Christian man or woman to evangelize the world fully conscious of his/her transfigured existence, fully aware that he/she walks now as the real presence of the divine, the really, truly present body and blood of the Savior.

How do we communicate to the world the presence and power of Christ when the world seems thoroughly in love with ideologies of death, radical materialism, and skepticism? Here’s how we do not communicate the power and presence of Christ to this world: Christ is only symbolically present, Christ is present because the bread and wine have had their final ends changed or because their nominations have changed. None of this communicates power or presence; it communicates doubt, embarrassment, and perhaps even denial. What communicates power and presence to this world is the hard example of Christians working in the world to bring to life those gospel values that signify the divinizing effect of the sacrifice of the Mass. This is work done now in light of Christ’s promise that he will be with us always– here now, there then and always.

III. Meeting ourselves as God created us to be forever: theosis

It seems to me that the Holy Father’s exhortation to us in Ecclesia de eucharistia is precisely right, that is, he is directing us to move from the liturgical celebration of the sacrifice of Calvary into the world as living Christs, transfigured persons set ablaze with the love of Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. Taking everything I’ve said so far about what we mean by “moral,” “theology,” and “liturgy,” a moral theology of the liturgy then has to tell us something about the person who is moved to be Christ in the world and how the liturgy of the Church makes this transformation possible. I said earlier that if we take the prayer of the Mass seriously we should be awed beyond rational description by what we commit ourselves to in sharing communion and driven by a desire to take that filial bond of communion out into the world as living sacraments of God’s presence. This is not simply a matter of allowing the prayers of the Mass to teach us a lesson, or finding spiritual refreshment in taking communion, or even being exhorted by the priest in his homily to go out and do good works. Surely, all of these happen in the Mass. But if what we’re talking about here is a moral theology of the liturgy in light of Ecclesia de eucharistia, then we have to move to a more radical concept of who becomes Christ and how the liturgy makes this possible. This radical concept is theosis.

If it appears that I’ve decided to pick up the topic of my presentation right here at the end, let me say: not true. I’ve said from the beginning that the Church’s liturgy is that moment and that place where the human person meets his/her final end: divinization, theosis, a transfiguration of the merely human into the perfectly human. The Dominican, Jean Corbon, describes this beautifully:

The lived liturgy does indeed begin with this “moral” union [a face-to-face encounter between the person of Christ and our own person], but it goes much further. The Holy Spirit is an anointing, and he seeks to transform all that we are into Christ: body, soul, spirit, heart, flesh, relations with others and the world. If love is to become our life, it is not enough for it to touch the core of our person; it must also impregnate our entire nature (216).

Underneath John Paul’s teaching that the Eucharist is the Church is the notion that Holy Spirit transforms His assembled people into a living offering for sacrifice. From the invocation of His presence at the beginning of Mass, and especially at the epiclesis over the offerings of bread and wine, the Holy Spirit sanctifies the people as an offering, transforming them from a collection of the merely human into a body of the perfectly human. This in no way replaces, displaces, or in any way disturbs the absolutely essential transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, it is through the transubstantiation of the bread and wine that we are constantly perfected by the Spirit. Without this efficacious sign our transformation is only symbolic, or merely moral, meaning it is only an exhortation to imitate Christ. What I believe that John Paul is teaching us, and Corbon is describing so beautifully, is that while the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, we also are changed, radically changed into what God has created us to be forever: Himself. And as He has offered Himself for us, we offer ourselves in the world for the transformation of the world. Corbon, again: “If we consent in prayer to be flooded by the river of life, our entire being will be transformed; we will become trees of life and be increasingly able to produce the fruit of the Spirit: we will love with the very Love that is our God”(216).

IV. Conclusion: three questions

1. What does theosis mean for your daily life? I mean, if we take theosis to be our understanding of what salvation in Christ is, then what difference does it make for you as a Christian day-to-day?

2. If we take “grace” to be both God’s invitation to theosis and the mechanism by which we are divinized, then what does it mean for us to say that we “receive grace” in the liturgy of the Eucharist (or in any liturgical celebration of a sacrament)?

3. We said that moral theology is the science of rationally reflecting on the good/evil actions of the human person in light of his/her final end as a creature of God. How does human evil, sin, corrupt or thwart the process of theosis in the liturgy?

Works Cited

Corbon, Jean. The Wellspring of Worship, 2nd ed. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2005.

Torrell, Jean-Pierre. Saint Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master. CUA Press, 2003.

13 November 2005

Sharing the divine life...

33rd Sunday OT: Prov 31.1-13, 19-20, 30-31; I Thes 5.1-6; Matt 25.14-15, 19-21
Fr. Philip N. Powell
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

In case you haven’t noticed: the end is near.

For the last several weeks Jesus has been teaching his disciples the basics of servant-leadership, communal living, the necessity of preparedness for the consummation of the kingdom. He has been preparing them for the hard reality that some will not follow them, others will openly rebel against them, some will persecute them, and still others will follow at first, then wander away, and possibly join the persecution. There is little in the recent gospel readings from Matthew to lighten our mood, to lift our hearts, or to make this choice for Christ easier. Good! It’s not supposed to be an easy choice to make nor is it supposed to be a easy life once chosen. There’s nothing easy or simple about a life lived in Christ for others. It’s work. Hard work. The pay is bad. The hours long. You can’t pick your co-workers. But hey I hear the benefits are pretty good!

So, what is this work in Christ for others? Jesus has been prepping the oftentimes dense disciples for their post-resurrection role as living witnesses to the gospel he has been preaching. He’s been preparing them for the tough task of living in a world that demands of its inhabitants a ruthless individualism, a mercenary mindset in service, and a dogged ladder-climbing mentality to the top. The spirit of this world demands the worship of the idols of money, power, prestige, celebrity, reputation, and appearance.

Jesus knows that he’s leaving his best students to the ravening wolves of empty and seductive philosophies—worldviews that make the human person nothing more than an animal, worldviews that make the human person into angels with traitorous bodies, and worldviews that make creatures into the Creator, that make gods out of what God has made. He knows that what he has taught them to teach is treachery to the Empire and the Temple, a betrayal of everything sacred to the powers and principalities of this world and blasphemy to the faith of their mothers and fathers.

But he leaves them knowing that he will send his Spirit among them after he is gone and that he will return in the end to gather them up and make them perfect in his presence forever. In the meantime, they have a lot of hard work to do. They have been given a handful of talents, a fistful of dollars to spend, invest, or bury. The good and faithful servant in our gospel reading tonight invests his talents and is rewarded with greater responsibilities and a share in his master’s joy.

Jesus makes this point: take the gifts I give you and make them bigger, better, and more fruitful. Make them grow. Make them more. Spend them and they are gone. Bury them and they rot. But if you make the hard choice to follow my way, to teach as I taught, to preach as I preached, to live as I lived, your talents will flourish, your gifts will abound, and the fruit you produce for the kingdom will be worth any reward from heaven.

The gift of the divine life left unshared with others is buried, rotted, or stupidly spent. The gift of the divine life lived in cringing fear of opposition or boring religious routine is puttered away, squandered at our Lord’s expense. The gift of the divine life lived in dull moderation with an eye to practicality, convenience, or inoffensiveness is a rich inheritance blown on cotton candy and circus hot dogs.

Jesus knows all of this. He knows the temptations that await his favorite students. He knows the troubles that will rock their faith, make them question their witness, and seduce them into complacency. He knows them. And he knows us. So, he prepares us to spend our lives in him serving others, teaching what he taught, preaching what he preached, living as he lived.

And part of this difficult lesson is that the end must come, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” There is a conclusion to this life, and there is a judgment to be made after its end. Like the three servants gifted with the talents in the gospel, the master will return, and an accounting will be made. This will be a time of measurement, appraisal, and a time of clarification, of illumination. But this time is not yet. Knowing that it is coming, hearing the Lord’s assurance that it will be done, is part of our motivation to take seriously his charge to us to be good and faithful servants, to be his excellent students, his excelling brothers and sisters.

This is no easy task for the contemporary Church. Two-thousand years separate us from the first efforts of the disciples to build something monumental after Christ’s death and resurrection. Two-thousand years spread between their immediate experience of Jesus in the flesh and our immediate experience of Jesus in the sacrament. The landscapes have changed. Languages have changed. Fashion, economics, governments have changed, but what is basic to the Father’s human creatures hasn’t changed. We are still tempted by power, prestige, selfishness, despair, and trial. We are still pushed around by the powers and principalities of the world, shoved into the obscure corners of the marketplace of ideas and slapped with the label “old-fashioned” and “intolerant,” as if being newly fashioned and tolerant were previously undiscovered virtues!

Yes, we are still tempted into sin and persecuted in varying degrees, but what bridges two-thousand years and every gap in history between the disciples and this congregation is the Living Word, Christ Crucified and Risen—the timeless bridge of He Who Is for us our final healing and our eternal salvation. The lessons of servant-leadership, communal living, and the necessity of being prepared for the consummation of His kingdom are as fresh, as bright now as they were then. We lead in the world by serving one another. We witness to Christ by being his one body. And we declare our faith in his promise of eternal life by living that promise of eternal life right now. Can this be said often enough: by your baptism and your good faith participation in this Eucharist tonight, you bring yourself to Christ to be an offering of praise and thanksgiving; you make your life holy so that what you do for others out there is truly sacrificial.

We are not promised an easy field to harvest. We are not promised a smooth, straight path to walk. We are given gifts to use in the spreading of the gospel, in the sowing of the Good News, and we are given, through the apostolic tradition, in the unswerving handing-on of the witness of the apostles, instruction sufficient to be children of the light and children of the day.

The end is near! The end is always near. Every moment of our lives brings the possibility that we will be called to accountability, called to answer for the use of our gifts. Let the Lord find you with double the gifts, triple the fruit.

Be the worthy wife: “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”