13 October 2006

It's not about Christ; it's about BEING Christ

27th Week OT (F): Galatians 3.7-14 and Luke 11.15-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Jesus is at war with the Devil’s kingdom. The gospel stories of exorcism are sometimes battles between Jesus’ desire to reveal who he is himself and the shock and awe of the demons who know who he is and who want to scream his name in terror. Jesus orders them to keep his secret! Demons may not reveal Christ’s identity to God’s human children. As purely disobedient intelligences, demons know who Christ is but do not experience him as Savior and Lord; therefore, they can reveal information about Christ—his identity, e.g.—but they cannot share his saving love, his healing mercy. In other words, they can tell us Christ’s name, but in their disobedience they cannot BE Christ for us. We are not only able to be Christ for one another, we are healthiest, wealthiest, and wisest when we do so. And the Church—fully armed and well-guarded—stands tallest against the siege of lies and violence that mark the Devil’s domestic and foreign policy!

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes that Christ died not only as the Messiah of the Jews but also as the only means of salvation for the Gentiles. Jesus expanded his Father’s kingdom to include all those not under the Mosaic law, not under the Old Covenant. And so, we are subjects of this kingdom in virtue of our baptism, citizens of a new realm, and heirs to the Father’s riches. But I wonder, looking at the Church today, if we really believe this. Do we really believe that we are subjects of the King, citizens of His realm, and heirs to His riches? A kingdom divided cannot stand. A realm split apart is weakened at its root. Riches scattered are easily squandered. And without the unity of the Body, from where do we draw the strength, the energy to be Christs for one another? Without obedience to the historic faith; allegiance to long, apostolic family narrative; without ears and eyes opened to the scriptural revelation of the Christ, we stand apart, divided, weak in our isolation, desolate in our individuality, and defeated before we are properly armed.

There are many ways that we fail the Kingdom and help the enemy. Let me identify one of the most damaging: when we limit our Christian activity in the world to gathering and distributing information to others about Christ instead of being Christ for others, we imitate the demons and hand them victory. In other words, when our ministry to the world is anything but the ministry of Jesus on earth—preaching and teaching the Father’s Word of truth; admonishing sinners; and healing and forgiving those same sinners,—anything but the work of Christ among the nations, then we are mute witnesses and blind guides.

The Good News, the Great News, is that we have received the promise of the Spirit through faith. Our failures of unity are not inevitable nor are they permanent. We know that the Kingdom has come in the person of Jesus Christ. We know that the Devil’s church has been razed and the ground salted. We know that the Word triumphs in creation, bringing every living thing to its natural and supernatural perfection in Christ—he is the firstfruit of all creation! We know, we know, we know. But knowing is not enough. It never has been. Never will be. We must know Christ, of course, and share Christ, always. But we must BE Christ first. Anything less, anything meaner or smaller than this full baptismal witness feeds the unclean spirits of disobedience and lazy charity, and seduces us into pride.

The Great News is that there is nothing disobedient or lazy in the promises of God. Nothing stingy or mean in the promises of His abundant Spirit. We are well-armed, fully charged, beautifully graced, and wholly loved. A joyful witness is ours to make. The kingdom is ours to claim: the Lord will remember His covenant forever.

08 October 2006

Childlike acceptance and the impossibility of divorce

27th Sunday OT: Genesis 2.18-24; Hebrews 2.9-11; Mark 10.2-16
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX

What does it mean to accept the Kingdom of God like a child? Jesus says quite plainly that we must come to accept his Father’s Kingdom like a child would, recognize His reign, unlock our lives to His rule if we are to be a part of the glory that is to come. Living with God forever is not a reward for good behavior or right belief, it is the supernatural consequence of a life lived in right relationship, in righteousness, with He Who loved you into being, loved you into redemption, and loves you even now, drawing you to Him, seducing your heart, wooing your soul back to the source of all peace, of all happiness, —pulling you back to Him.

To accept the Kingdom of God like a child means first that you respond to our Father’s clarion call to come home to Him without argument, without pretense, without guile, without need for evidence or proof. You come home to rest because home is where you most belong. Because resting in God is the rest that cradles your angriest hurts, your most tedious worries, and your meanest desires. You come home to rest in God because you know and accept—as any child would—that there is no argument for love, no pretense in belonging. The bond between you and God, between all of us and God was forged at the welding of creation, from the instantaneous convulsion of Nothing into Everything, we are bound to Him, indelibly marked by His love precisely because He is Love and Love is Who He Is. To know as true and accept as real that you are brought out of nothingness, shaped body and soul by Love, held in being by Love, and seduced back to Love in your chase after holiness—to know these as true, to accept these as real—THIS is what it means to look up into the face of Jesus, to come to him, to be embraced and blessed by him and to live with him forever.

Forgive me, I’m going to become a professor for a second: Coming before everything we have freely chosen ourselves to be is the primal kinship between each of us and God. There is nothing about us more basic, more fundamental than the fact that we exist. We ARE. This fact means that we are loved. God is Love. And we continue to exist because He loves us. God made us in His image and likeness. He made us for no other reason than to live in perfect relationship with Him. It follows then that every relationship we can name, every connection we can point to, every single kinship we have is given to us by God and is a reflection of our most primitive relationship with Love, with God. We can have no relationship with each other or with anything in creation that is not first a relationship with God, first a kinship with Love Who made us. Now, I can say: the question the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce misses the point of our creation, misses the point of our very existence; in fact, it betrays a deep misunderstanding of who we are made to be finally.

You are probably saying, “Wow, Father, took you long enough to get to divorce!” It did. Here’s why: how easy for me to stand up here and teach what the Church teaches about marriage and divorce, pointing to all the relevant texts—all read this morning—and pointing to the CCC and telling you what you already know: marriage is permanent, therefore, divorce is impossible. But you might think that this is a social policy issue or a cultural problem or a private choice. You might think that the Church needs to loosen its teachings on marriage or ease its overly harsh understanding of divorce. I spent so much time laying out our childlike relationship with God Who Is Love so that I can say this: divorce is impossible because it is impossible for us NOT to have a relationship with God—even if that relationship is broken, deeply impaired. What God has joined, no man must separate.

OK. That sounds odd. Divorce is impossible because it is impossible for us not to have a relationship with God. Think about it: God created Man, Adam and Eve. In the more detailed telling of the two Genesis stories of creation, God uses Adam’s rib to create Eve. God brings the newly created person to Adam for a name. He names her “woman.” The story continues with this explanation of marriage: that is why a man leaves his mom and dad and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh…perhaps it should read, “and the two become one flesh again.”

My point is simple: our most basic relationship is with God, the One in Whom we find our completion, our wholeness, and our end; marriage then embodies the search for and discovery of wholeness and the consummation of a single person’s separated existence into a completed existence. In other words, the sacrament of marriage signs and makes present the joining of the creature with his or her Creator. Marriage is a sacrament of redemption. Divorce is impossible because divorce implies that marriage, a sacrament of our healing, can mean something else entirely. It cannot.

Fine. So, the next question: what do we do with Catholics who have divorced and remarried? This will sound harsh. We do with divorced Catholics what we do with all those who disobey God, what we do with all those who manage to mess up their relationship with the One Who loves us completely. We do with divorced Catholics exactly what we do with fornicators, apostates, adulterers, abusive priests, grossly irresponsible bishops, and heretics; we do what we do with you and with me—we stand here imperfect in the truth of the faith, clearly proclaiming the golden standard of holiness to which we are all called, readily naming our own sin, our need for forgiveness, and we welcome them—all of them—back to a life of righteousness, always back to Love, always back to that which they and we resist only in the most hateful moments of gross pride: Christ’s patient, loving embrace. There is no alternative here. No other way to go.

To be clear: we cannot lie about divorce or adultery or fornicator or any sin for that matter. Pretending that sin isn’t sin or renaming sin to hide its ugliness does nothing to the reality of a broken relationship. We might as well conclude that gravity is inconvenient and decide to ignore it. Dropped dishes will still fall. Airplanes will still need speed and thrust to fly. And divorce is impossible not because the Church says so, not even because Jesus say so, but because marriage is a living witness to the most basic hunger we have, the most basic satisfaction we can find: the love of God. Marriage cannot be what it is not. And neither can we.

Know and accept, therefore, the embrace and blessing of Christ. If you are married, make that commitment shine like the sun for our good and yours. If you are divorced, come back; come back to us for your holiness and ours. We need you. We are one flesh, one Body in Christ. Pope Benedict writes in his letter, Deus caritas est, that when we embrace Christ and his blessing, “God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love.” There is no better measure of mercy and no better way home.