18 February 2006

I am doing something new...

7th Sunday OT: Isa 43.18-19, 21-22, 24-35; 2 Cor 1.18-22; Mark 2.1-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. The Lord is bringing us fresh water, good food, cheerful company. And we, well, we bring flat sodas, stale bread, and stingy, griping hearts. The Lord laughs and we cry. The Lord forgives and we nurse our wounds. OK! We’re not that bad, but I’m making a point: it is Who God Is to bring in, to make welcome, to spread abundance, to forgive offenses, to make well, induce joy, persuade to repentance, and to reconcile. It is Who God Is to send out over and over and over again the summons for us to come back to Him, to return to His family, and rest in His abundant love and grace. Like the man paralyzed, we can be made sick by sin, paralyzed—spiritually—with fear, anxiety, self-loathing, and a nearly insatiable longing for forgiveness. And like the paralyzed man, we can be healed. But do we (do you?) want it? Do you want to be healed?

The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. The Lord is healing the sick—the leper, the man born blind, the man born deaf and unable to speak—; he’s tossing demons out of long-possessed souls, freeing them from the grip of the Evil One; he’s teaching his law of love and his law of mercy to his students and the crowds; and he’s standing there and here, hand out, waiting, waiting, waiting for them, for you, me, for us to take it and get well. To be reconciled, made whole again. Do we (do you?) want to be healed? What possesses us and prevents us from the simple act of reaching back, taking Jesus’ hand, and making all things right again?

The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. The paralyzed man, lowered from the ceiling, is not hoping to be given the freedom of his arms and legs again. There is no guesswork there at all. He knows his healing is in reach. He knows his freedom, his recovery is right there in the person of Jesus Christ. The wiping away of his sin, the washing clean of his spirit is just inches away. And he knows that he will rise, pick up his mat, and walk home. The scribes doubt; they fidget and worry, murmur and twitch about the alleged blasphemy, the seemingly outrageous claim of Jesus to heal by forgiving sins. But they end up astounded; they end up glorifying God, and saying with everyone else: “We have never seen anything like this.” Their doubt is banished by undeniable evidence. What prevents us (you?) from reaching back to Jesus for healing, for forgiveness?

The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. One very harmful “same old thing” that we keep doing over and over is believing that we can come to good spiritual health on our own. We can work at prayer hard enough, labor away at fasting and abstinence long enough, plug away at fighting temptation, engaging in spiritual warfare, and building up enough credit with God over time that we can cash it all in and buy some grace, purchase for ourselves a little piece of divine real estate. Maybe turn away the Lord’s anger with a neat little gift of holy work. Yea. Good luck with that.

Let’s be perfectly clear: the battle against sin and death is over. We won. There is no battle to fight. To war to wage. There is no work left to do. Jesus won the last battle on the Cross. Sin and death are dead. We are free. That we continue to sin results from the exercise of that freedom; its abuse. The right use of our freedom enslaves us to God’s will and yanks us gleefully to the Father to do His holy work for others. Our Father’s love cannot be earned; it cannot be bought; it cannot be begged or threatened or negotiated for. How can it? It is ours already. Freely given on the altar of the Cross. Freely given on this altar of sacrifice. Why would it ever occur to us (to you?) to kill ourselves working to pay of something that is not only free but ours (yours) already?!

The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. Another harmful “same old thing” we do is cling to our sins once they are absolved. We mull them over, worry about them, fret that maybe, just maybe the Lord missed one, or that I didn’t really feel sorry enough for that one, so it’s still there. Sins forgiven are sins forgotten. Let them go. No one cured of cancer fondly remembers the tumor. So, why do we cling to our sins once they are forgiven? There is a appropriate sense of guilt at work here. Good people feel guilty about sinning. Good, they should. It means they are fundamentally good people and not sociopaths. But completing the assigned penance is enough. You are forgiven. Now forget and rejoice in your victory! If you won’t hear me, hear what the Lord said to us through Isaiah: “You burdened me with your sins, and wearied me with your crimes. It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.” Your sins I remember no more.

The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. OK. You’ve had some time to think about it: what prevent us (you?) from reaching back to Jesus, from laying claim to the freedom of the Cross, from going to confession? No doubt it’s different for everyone, but my guess is that it is b/c the sacrament of reconciliation not only requires confession of sins, contrition, and penance, it also requires repentance, conversion of heart and mind and the resolve to sin no more. Conversion is the hardest thing we do as Christians. Conversion means taking a hard look at our lives from God’s view. Making a clear, honest assessment of where we are with God, where we’re going, and saying with some integrity: “I’m stuck. And I’m stuck b/c my sin is weighing me down.” The grace to move toward the sacrament, the spiritual energy (if you will) is provided by the Holy Spirit. If you feel moved, prompted to confess—do it! The Holy Spirit is thumping you on the head and saying, “What are you waiting for? Your sins are forgiven. Go claim your victory in the sacrament! I have work for you to do and you’re just sitting there stuck.”

Our Lord’s invitation to live with Him forever is open-ended. Always there, always new and fresh. The victory against sin is won. That battle is over. We just have to claim the victory, reach back to Christ through his church, name our sins, ask for forgiveness and feel the freedom of a white-washed soul, a pristine spirit, ready for doing the Lord’s work in the world. The Lord is doing something new. Always new. And we, well, we keep doing the same old things over and over again. But we don’t have to—we are freed from destructive routine, habitual sin, malicious memories of our past, the compulsive need to earn mercy, and the reluctance to face our sin and ask for absolution.

We are free. We are healed.

Rise! Pick up your mat! And come home!


  1. Anonymous5:29 PM

    And we are made whole!

    Thank you, Father. I so very much like to read your thoughts. Your priestly convictions are so welcomed. That more would be like you!

    God bless you, Father. I pray for you and all soldiers for Christ, especially His priests, every day. Those morning Rosaries are for you.

  2. Anonymous10:12 PM

    Thanks so much for your homily. God speaks very loudly through you... I can't even doze out when I try ;)

  3. Anonymous11:00 AM

    Magnificent again, dear Father! I was in Barhamsville, Va, preaching to the Poor Clares in their splendid new monastic church. See the church here: http:/www.vermonttimberworks.com/poorclares.html

    Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
    Psalm 41:1-2, 3-4, 12-13
    2 Corinthians 1:18-22
    Mark 2:1-12

    February19, 2006
    Bethlehem Monastery of the Poor Clares
    Barhamsville, Virginia

    “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you . . . was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor 1:19-20). Christ is the Father's Yes to every yearning inscribed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Christ is the Father's Yes to every prayer of ours for healing, the Father's Yes to every cry of ours in the night, the Father's Yes even to the petitions we dare not formulate “for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). When the Holy Spirit himself “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26), Christ is the Father's Yes to every one of those sighs. Christ is the Father's Yes to the inward groanings of those who hope for what is not yet seen (cf. Rom 824-25). Christ is the Father's Yes to all the promises made “by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old” (Lk 1:70).
    The prophet is the mouthpiece of God, the living bearer of his Word, the emissary charged with delivering the promises of God to “those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79). And Christ is the Yes to those promises: their guarantee and their fulfillment. “That is why,” says the Apostle, “we utter the Amen through him to the glory of God” (2 Cor 1:20). This, the Church has done from the beginning and continues to do in every age. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
    Those who refuse to let go of the past are not disposed to receive the promises of God. Their heads, their hearts, their hands, and sometimes even their rooms, their closets, their drawers, their file cabinets, and their trunks are so full of what is old, that there is no room in them for what is new. What does God say, speaking today through his prophet? “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:19).
    Does that mean that we are to practice a kind of self-induced amnesia? Absolutely not. This is not about repression. To forget means to put away. Before something can be put away, it has to be found. The same God who says, “Remember not!” never tires of saying, “Remember!” O glorious paradox! “Remember the wonderful works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered” (Ps 104:5). And in another place the psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps 102:2). We are to remember the mercies of the Lord and let go of all the rest. Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo. The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever (Ps 88:1).
    We are to let go of all those things that impede our going forward to claim the promises of God. We are to let go of all those things that oppose a no to Christ in whom all the promises of God find their Yes (cf. 2 Cor 1:19-20). This letting go allows the fragile green shoot of hope to break through the crusty hardness of a heart whose winter has gone on for too long.
    At the same time, we are to hold fast to the remembrance of God's mercies. Day after day we are sing of the promises of God fulfilled in Christ. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen. Amen. Amen.
    These are God's promises to us, delivered through the mouth of Isaiah his prophet today: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert . . . for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Is 43:20-21). Every promise of God blossoms into praise. The designs of God have a doxological finality: the vast designs of cosmic proportions, and the little ones hidden in the life stories of the least of Christ's brethren. Faith in the promises of God flowers into an indefectible hope, and the fruit of hope is praise.
    The God who promises “a new thing” (Is 43:19) tells us precisely how he will go about it: “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is 43:25). “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2:5). Fix your gaze on the face of Christ and read there the Yes to all the promises of God! And lest any lingering doubt remain, “he said to the paralytic, 'I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' And he rose. . . .” (Mk 2:10-12). And he rose.
    Sixty days before Pascha on this Sexagesima Sunday, Our Lord speaks a word of spiritual resurrection. This is the word of hope that we are to remember and carry in our hearts: the promise of a resurrection from the pallet where we lay immobilized and paralyzed by the burdens and sins of “former things, of the things of old” (Is 43:18). “Behold,” says God, “I am doing a new thing . . . a new thing in you, a new thing for you, a new thing among you, a new thing through you. . . now it springs forth, do you not perceive it” (cf. Is 43:19).
    To all of this, Christ, knowing our weakness and our fears, says Yes for us. To his Yes, to the Yes that he is, we have only to say, “Amen.” And for this we will go to the altar to say, to sing, “our Amen through him to the glory of God” (2 Cor 1:20). “Through him, and with him, and in him. . . . Amen.” And then, “The Body of Christ. Amen.” The Eucharist is Christ, the Yes of God, on our tongues and in our mouths. The Body of Christ is the Yes of God in our hearts. “The Body of Christ. Amen.”

  4. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Great homily! I was tempted to steal it but honesty got the better of me. Thanks!