26 February 2006

New and Improved with Fresh New Scent

8th Sunday OT: Hos 2.16-17, 21-22; 2 Cor 3.1-6; Mark 2.18-22
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome one and all to the Newest, Happiest, Shiniest Show on Earth! Welcome one and all to the Latest, Trendiest, Freshest philosophies available on the planet. We offer you the most innovative, the most original, the most novel means to perfect happiness, total freedom, ultimate satisfaction, AND shiny and more manageable hair! Our colors are brighter, our aromas are sweeter, our textures softer, and our sound, WELL, our sound is louder, sharper, and clearer than ever! We work around the clock to insure that no opportunity to improve, to change, to revolutionize our finest products is ever missed. We have research facilities packed with the best-educated people in the universe, working 24/7 on ways to make your contentment a ready, easy, and inexpensive reality in a SNAP!

Ladies and Gentlemen, you are tired of being tired, run down from being run down? Are you exhausted by the work of enlightenment, holiness, and just plain ole Being Good? I have right here the Secrets of the Ancients! The Keys to Total Fulfillment! And the Elixir of Eternal Life! It’s new, it’s shiny, it’s the Latest Thing, and, boy, does it smell good! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you:___________________! And it can be yours for the low, low one time price of your soul, or you can pay in installments over your lifetime with just one Big Sin a month. That’s right: just one Big Sin a month! How easy is that? All you need to do is surrender your reason to intellectual and media fashion; surrender your will to herd and flock morality; rent out your body to the cosmetic, diet, and pharmaceutical industries, and worship at the altar of celebrity politics, and VOILA!, you’re a vacuous, trend-following, bubble-headed neo-pagan just like the rest of us! Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Hell!

Hear the Lord this evening: I will lead you into the desert and speak to your heart. You will be espoused to me in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD. The letter of Christ is written not on tablets of stone but on your hearts of flesh. The letter of the Law brings death, but the Spirit gives new life. Therefore, He says, new wine needs to be poured into fresh wineskins.

Newer, shinier, and fresher, the Spirit of the Lord moves over His creation to renew, to polish, and to refresh. He moves over His creation to bring to life again the desire to seek after, to find, and to live the good life of holiness in Him. He speaks to our hearts with a voice spilling over with love and mercy, with a voice steeled against swift judgment and vengeance. His is an eternal voice, a Word spoken long ago and right now, at the beginning of all things and at their end. He renews life b/c He is Life. And He touches our place of covenant with Him, our hearts. He touches them as the One Who gives us tempo and blood, pulse and breath. We are espoused forever, espoused in right and justice, in love and in mercy. And we know the Lord!

The pimps of pop-culture and academic fashion need for you to believe just one thing in order to hook you, just one thing. They need for you to believe that YOU can make yourself new. They need for you to believe that you are deficient, incomplete, all so that you run to them—the purveyors of fashionable thought and ever-evolving philosophies. They feed on our anxiety, our firm suspicion that something isn’t right, something is missing and deeply wrong about our lives. We could be better, more productive, more energetic, more alive! Sure we could! But how? Building on these small worries, they create larger worries, bigger anxieties by constantly dragging in front of us the new and improved, the latest and brightest.

And we buy it. Over and over again, we buy it. And the more we buy it, the more they sell it and we become a culture more and more enslaved to the lie that I alone can make myself new; I alone can bring renewal to my sadly inadequately, shamefully deficient life. The fact that I alone, just like everyone else, have to sell my soul to celebrity and fashion in order to be this renewed individual is missed entirely, hidden in the sparkle, the electric rush of novelty. We cannot renew ourselves. Sure, we can shine ourselves up, trim down, brighten our teeth, wear new clothes, and get all our fat and sagging parts sucked thin and tightened up, but we cannot renew ourselves.

We cannot pour the new wine of our espoused spirits into the old wineskins of fashionable lies.

Though we cannot renew ourselves, we can be renewed. We can find ourselves remade, refashioned, and completely redone for the Kingdom. But this transformation is the work of God through His church not the work of the cultural prostitutes who would sell us anything to get their hands on our Everything—our souls, our reason for being here, our covenant with the Father. We are espoused, promised to God by God, in righteousness and justice, in love and mercy, so that we might know Him, so that we might have as the foundation, the rock bottom foundation, of our lives His fidelity, His faithfulness, and…Him—His presence among us, the Spirit of Life, the Bridegroom of this wedding feast. And it is in being with us that He renews us, in the sacraments, in the Word proclaimed and preached, in His creation, and in one another through charity and service, covenant and ministry.

Standing in stark contrast to the gospel of self-renewal and suicidal individualism is the gospel of the renewing Spirit preached by Christ and his apostles, handed down in promise to their children, and given to us in the faithfulness of the Lord’s Church. You can nip, tuck, suck out, work off, rethink, revision, plan, work out, project, and self-actualize and still find yourself restless, bored, exhausted, hungry, empty, and weak. You can retreat, study, massage, align, and mediate and still find yourself craving, needing, searching and not finding. There is nothing to discover. No secret to reveal. No exercise program or diet to follow. There is God’s mercy, His invitation to us to share with Him His divine life. There was our first Yes and our everyday Yes, our first fast and our everyday fast.

There is the temporary and the eternal, the passing and the permanent. We are free to attach ourselves to fleeting illusion or graced presence, to the refundable moment or to the renewing foundation. We can listen to and heed the seductive voices of our culture’s carnival barkers, spending our divine gifts on ideas and movements and celebrities that will sour, dry up, and blow away like old wine. We can gather around and gawk at the shiny new toys, the bright new ideas and innovations, eagerly entertaining the temptations of alien philosophies, the spurious promises of faked prophecies, borrowed spiritualities, and tourist religions. Or we can remember who we are: espoused of God forever in love and mercy, in right and justice; ministers of the new covenant commended by the Spirit and given new life. We are disciples of Christ, new wine poured into fresh wineskins. Forever beloved. Always forgiven. And again and again made new. Always new.

Will you live your life commited to one faith and one Lord? Or will you live as a marketing stat, a poll demographic, a victim of novelty’s populist cult?

The Spirit alone give life.


  1. A home run, Father! I preemptively confess I will borrow liberally from this to give my CCD students tonight.



    P.S. You typo-ed "VIOLA" instead of "VOILA"...I do that all the time.

  2. Joe,

    Glad to be of help with the CCD classes. Also, thanks for pointing out the typo. I am the worst speller on the planet. It's fixed now!

    Cheers...Fr. Philip

  3. If the mission of the Church is to help raise the dignity of man in order for us to get into heaven, you have achieved a step in the right direction.
    For other church leaders not doing the same, we can pray.