10 November 2006

Blessed are they who gossip...

Pope Saint Leo the Great: Sirach 39.6-11 and Matthew 16.13-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

Jesus is a gossip. Notice how the gospel begins: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He wants to know what people are saying about him! You might say, “Well, he’s setting the disciples up to teach them about who he is.” No doubt. But he’s doing so by asking his students what others think of him, what others are saying about him. As a teacher I can tell you: we want to know what our students think of us! It’s important to us b/c we teach in order to pass on a certain wisdom, a manner of framing the world and moving around in it. We want to shout at our students sometimes, cajole and prod them, swift kick them or lift them up, but we always want to know how well we are teaching, how well are we handing on to them what wisdom we have.

OK, it might be a little much to call Jesus a gossip! If he is a gossip, he is a Holy Gossip and he is testing his disciples to see if they have been listening to how well his Word has been passed on to the people, how well his Word has diffused out and settled into the hearts and minds of those gathered to hear and see. The disciples tell him what they have been hearing. Some have said that you are John the Baptist. Some have said Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. You can almost see Jesus smirking or maybe rolling his eyes just a little! Well, not everyone is paying close attention apparently! But at least they hear that his is prophetic, at least they “get” that he is not a magician or a snake oil salesman. They know that he speaks with authority and wisdom.

Now, the real test: do the disciples know this? Have his students been paying attention? What has he taught them? Turning to the class, Jesus asks, “John the Baptist and Jeremiah, uh? Well, OK. Who do you say that I am?” Always the favorite, Peter’s hand goes up first: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Precisely right! Gold star for Simon Peter! And he and his faith are rewarded with the keys to the Kingdom. He is made steward of Christ’s realm and Head Gossip of the Church. It is now his job to make sure that all the rumors, all the whispering and innuendo, all the chitchat and yammering about who Jesus is comes out right. It is his job to make sure that what gets whispered is more than rumor and story. He is charged, with the other disciples and eventually the whole Church, charged with setting loose in the world the juiciest bit of chisme creation has ever heard: Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God! And he is here to do the work of our salvation.

Blessed are you who whisper this truth. Blessed are you who gossip about this gift of the spirit. Blessed are you who hear and see, listen and witness. Blessed are you who question and learn, who ask and receive. Blessed are you who speak wisdom and sing God’s praises. Blessed are you who pour out glory and a spirit of understanding. Blessed are you who raise your hands, open your mouth, and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God. And, finally, blessed are you who admit your ignorance and submit yourself as a graced natural resource to the stewardship of Peter. It is upon that rock, Peter, that Christ’s Church is built, where His Church stands, and where His Church prevails.

If your tongue must be loose, let it be bound with the gossip of the gospel. Whisper to one another and anyone who will hear: Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God!

08 November 2006

Battling Heretics in the Seminary, or Protest at Your Own Risk

A few commenters on my Exhortation below have challenged me to clarify my statement that we need young men called to the priesthood to battle dissenting professors in our seminaries. The primary objection to this assertion seems to be that these young men, following my advice, will end up either "flying under the radar" as closeted orthodox believers in order to survive or booted out of seminary for being troublemakers and end up "damaged goods."

My initial response to this objection was to argue that my students here at UD are fully aware that courage requires prudence. One does not do battle courageously and do it imprudently. I hold to this still. But I also concede that not everyone reading my Exhortation understands the connection between courage and prudence. There is a real chance a zealous young man might decide to do battle with a dissenting seminary prof and do so imprudently, and thus find himself bounced out on his ear. My own experience with the liberal professoriate proves that there is nothing more illiberal than a liberal with a PhD, power, and with whom one disagrees.

Another reader in a private email pointed out that since I received my theological education in schools run by my Order (Aquinas Institute in St. Louis and Blackfriars Hall, Oxford University), I had a very different experience than most seminarians. I concede this as well. Most of my profs were Dominican friars and sisters. There is a different dynamic when you are being taught by people with whom you will be spending the rest of your life! I would point out, however, that religious order seminarians rarely get to choose their seminaries. I think this is probably the case with diocesan seminarians as well. One commenter made the point that young men answering the call to priesthood need to exercise prudence in choosing a diocese or religious community so that he is not put in a position of having to battle anyone. All is can say to this is: good luck with that! Seriously, there might be two seminaries in this country where the entire faculty is acceptably orthodox (and my definition of "orthodox" is more expansive than most!).

Given all that, let me say this: if you are an orthodox (notice I didn’t say conservative!) young man in a seminary and you find yourself confronted by a professor obstinately teaching error or dissenting from well-established Church teaching, you have several options:

1). Be quiet, take notes, tell him/her what he/she wants to hear. Get through it knowing that you don’t have to believe any of their nonsense!

2). Politely question and offer respectful critique. Emphasis on respectful.

3). If the dissenting prof uses the rhetoric of freedom or diversity when defending his/her right to dissent, then ask him/her how he/she feels about students dissenting from his/her dissent. Most will say, "Bring it on!" Most of those won’t mean it. See #’s 1 and 2.

4). Offer intelligent opposition in writing assignments, but leave the public debate to more adventurous souls. Dissenters can usually take a little opposition in written form. It’s being called out in front of the class that riles them.

5). Couch your opposition to their dissent in strictly Thomistic terms: "It would seem that your understanding of the Trinity leads us to X, Y, and Z. I wonder if you could help me see how your understanding of the Trinity could avoid X, Y, and Z?" Simple statement of fact or possible conclusion.

6). Open defiance is really not an option with liberal or conservative dissenters. Both have security issues and your opposition will be couched in terms of a "formation issue." I found that most of my opposition—always polite, intelligent, humorous, and exactly correct! (HA!)—was reported as "anti-female" and "anti-laity;" in other words, I insisted on the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and sacraments.

7). I always counsel against using any form of liberal democratic protest against dissenting profs (petitions, pickets, et al). I know, I know, the irony is seductive, but it only draws attention to them and makes them think people really care what they think. Don’t add any rooms to their delusional castles.

Of course, as a last resort you could always listen, take notes, ask intelligent questions, ask the prof to lay out the consequences of his/her teaching, and actually learn something from their dissent. I mean, even if you just learn how not to dissent, it would be worth the effort!

Fr. Philip, OP

Neo? Buddha? Or that Guy from NPR?

Anniversary of Deceased Brothers and Sisters of the Order of Preachers
Revelation 21.1-7; John 17.15-21, 24-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Before going with his disciples to the Garden where he is betrayed, Jesus asks his Father to consecrate his disciples, his friends and students, in the truth, “Consecrate them by means of the truth. Your Word is truth.” What is Jesus asking his Father to do, precisely?

Let’s look at what he is not asking his Father to do. First, he is not asking his Father to deposit into the minds of the disciples a set body of knowledge or a cache of information. He is not, in other words, asking the Father to download the divine equivalent of an doctrinal encyclopedia into the brains of the disciples. Peter, John, James, Andrew, and the rest aren’t Matrix characters waiting for the operator to punch up a Dogma Program and hit them with Truth 3.0. Nor is Jesus asking his Father to flood their hearts with luminous warmth, with the fragrant aroma of pure enlightenment and self-knowledge, to bestow on them the bright intellectual clarity of an ascended Master. The disciples aren’t gurus to be illuminated; they aren’t maharishis to be dissolved into cosmic Oneness, to be sprinkled like stardust on a solar wind. Finally, Jesus is not asking his Father to educate his friends to be savvy cultural critics, bored and boring observers of the state of human society, or distant “readers” of intellectual trends, shifts in political power, and swings in the populist mood. The disciples are not marketing savants or fashion mavens or trendsetting celebrities.

So, if Jesus is not asking the Father to set his disciples up as information caches, bodhisattvas, or pop-cultural ciphers, what is he asking? He is asking his Father to make them Christs; to make them into sacrificial servants of the Church; to set them aside for the consuming work of teaching and preaching as Jesus himself taught and preached. Jesus is praying for nothing less than the radical transformation of his students into the embodied Word, walking, breathing, living—flesh and bone—incarnations of the Word.

Jesus says to his Father, “Your word is truth. As you have sent me, so I have sent them into the world…” In just the same way that God sent His Son into the world for our salvation…in just that way…Jesus sends his disciples into the world to preach the Word and they send us into the world to preach the Word and we send…who is it that we send to preach? “I do not pray for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…” Jesus prays for those who will hear his Word from you, from me, from us as a family, as an institution. He is not praying for institutional unity or uniformity, he is praying for one heart and mind among us. A single Word, a single teaching, one preaching, one witness to Christ alone.

How do we preach, teach, live, breath, eat, drink the Word, the Truth? Are we, are you “set aside” in the Word of Truth that is Jesus Christ? In other words, do you see and hear and taste and feel the world through the ancient faith, through the histories of our mothers and fathers in Christ, through that which has been handed on to us as definitive of us, as telling of who and what we are as Catholics, as witnesses, as preachers, as Christs?

Jesus revealed his Father’s name to the disciples so that the Father’s love for Jesus may live in his disciples. He continues to reveal the Father’s name so that His love for Christ may live in us. If we will be consecrated in the Truth—set aside in the Word—we will do now what Christ did then so that all, everyone and anyone, will know what Christ continues to do: he loves us into eternal life.

Who will you send today as a disciple? Who will you consecrate in truth?

06 November 2006

Why so riled up, Father?

Several readers have written me privately asking me to share what got me so riled up about vocations!

I will list the events so as to avoid any potentially uncharitable descriptors sneaking in:

1). A parish in SF allowed a group of HIV/AIDS activists known as the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulenge” to use the parish hall for a fundraising bingo game. The prizes included sex toys, porn DVD’s, and condoms. I will leave it to you to Google the sisters for more info. Be careful!

2). A parish in Orange, CA celebrates a “Halloween Mass” where the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist are dressed as Satan.

3). The recent announcement of the LA archdiocese that Mahoney has approved the creation of Parish Life Directors. PLD’s will be laymen and will have the authority of a pastor even if there is a priest on staff.

4). The recent push in many dioceses to train lay leaders to use Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest. One editorial: in my experience lay-lead communion services confuse those attending. As a student brother doing hospital work on Tuesday, I called the fornt desk to ask the very Catholic receptionist to announce the following: “Br. Philip will be conducting a communion service at noon.” The actual announcement was: “Br. Philip will be celebrating Mass at noon.” I also heard on several occasions: “Sister Barbara will be celebrating Mass as noon.” Tell me SCAP won’t confuse. And, in my most uncharitable moments, I think confusion is precisely the point. There’s a agenda here, folks. Bet on it.

5). I love my UD students! They are smart, creative, independent, and very weird sometimes. But UD is something of a Catholic Bubble and I’m afraid that the easy availability of Mass, confession, and priests for spiritual direction will lead these students—especially the young men—to think that UD is somehow typical of the rest of the Church. For example, there are 28 opportunities for Mass a week here at UD. There are more than five hours of confession available and this doesn’t include “by appointment” that most priests on campus do. There are five or six priests active on faculty. Also, we have the Dominican Priory, the Cistcerian Abbey, the Opus Dei House, the Legionaries House, and two local parishes! It would be very easy for a young man with a vocation to come to be believe that he is not needed!

To answer one more question: yes, I will podcast the exhortation tomorrow!

Fr. Philip

UPDATE: I forgot one! The voters' guide put out by the National Coalition of American Nuns. The "sisters" are opposed to war partly b/c wars tend to kill children. They are also supportive of abortion b/c....uhmmmm?...b/c abortion doesn't kill children? Go figure.

05 November 2006

Exhortation on Vocations, or No Time for Fear!

(delivered at the 7.30pm Mass at the Church of the Incarnation, Nov. 5, 2006 before the final blessing)


Please give me five minutes to say something that must be said…

I will jump immediately to the punchline. To the men here tonight, if you know that God has called you to serve His church as a priest or even if you think he might have called you to serve, it is time to put aside your worries and your doubts and your fears and your hesitations and it is time to answer with a resounding YES!

There is no vocations crisis in this country. None. There is a crisis of courage. God has called all the men we need to serve His Church as priests. More than enough. There is never a lack of abundant blessings from our Father. There is, however, a lack of generous acceptance of His abundance. We, as a Church, can only benefit from those blessings that we accept, only those that we eagerly bring in and use and give thanks to God for! So my question is: if God is sending us all the vocations we need, why do we have such a shortage of priests?

The young men God is calling aren’t saying YES to the call. Why? The reasons are as old as the world: money, sex, prestige, or should I say the fear of not having any money sex, or prestige. Forgive me for saying this, but it needs to be said: there is a profound lack of courage among you who are called but will not say YES. What do you fear? If God has called you to the priesthood, what more do you need than His word setting you on the way? Yes, you will have to give up sex, money, and prestige. Why is this a problem for a Christian? Have you bought into the pagan ideal of the virile man? You can’t be a man if you don’t have a treasure box full of gold, an enviable career, and a little black book full of women?! No, I’m not saying that the vows of a Catholic priest are easy to live out. Far from it. It takes courage, resolve, and a lot of hard work with God’s grace to be a faithful ordained man of God. And the reward for this hard work isn’t always what we might want. But that’s what sacrifice is—giving to God the best we have and trusting that He will use it to the best possible end.

I was going to tell you what got me so riled up about this topic, but after several drafts I couldn’t find a way to tell you charitably. So rather than tell you what got me so angry, let me tell you what we need in the Church right now. We need young men—faithful, courageous, smart, eager to serve—young men who will give themselves to the tough work of leading the church through the first half of this century. Bishops all over the country are setting into place the self-fulfilling prophecy of priestless Sundays and activists are slowly preparing American Catholics for the disappearance of the priest. He is to become a relic, a rare thing seen only once or twice a year, and eventually, b/c of the terrible shortage that we all lament, of course, he is to become a luxury we can no longer afford.

We need young men who will step up and offer themselves as servant-leaders. We need young men who will battle the dissenting professors in the seminaries, who will step up and take charge in the parishes as men of God, who are not embarrassed by their vocation and who will proudly proclaim themselves religious, priests, and servants. We need young men who will patiently work with faithful lay men and women to prepare them for leadership roles proper to the lay charism. In other words, gentlemen, we need you to say YES to God’s call to you. We need young men with great big hearts to stand up, come forward, and do the job that Christ has left us to do: to teach, to preach, to celebrate his sacraments, and to show us the Way as faithful men of this century.

Tuesday night at Dinner and Discourse, Fr, Joe Koenig, the diocesan vocations director, will be here to speak. The university’s Serra Club will provide I Fratelli’s pizza for dinner and we will have dessert. Dinner starts at 5:30pm in Anselm 230. The talk begins at 6:00pm with a showing of the video, Fishers of Men. Come fill your bellies as all good Catholics should and come fill your hearts to serve.

Men, step up! There’s no time for fear.

How do we fail to love?

31st Sunday OT: Deut 6.2-6; Hebrews 7.23-28; Mark 12.28-34
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

Ours is an erotic faith. A faith of eros! We are made to love, to be loved, and in loving we are made to become Love Himself—to join our Creator, our loving Father, in His kingdom and offer to Him our praise, our thanksgiving, and to offer our very lives as living sacrifices for His glory. We are created, redeemed, and made holy so that we might grow in agape, be perfected in agape, diffuse the beauty of our God’s eros—His creating, redeeming, sanctifying love of us—to diffuse His eros for us so that we are able to love one another as He loves us. To put it very crudely: God “eroes” us so that we might “agape” one another. Because he eroses us first, we are able to agape each other always. And this is the only way for the children of the Father to live in the Spirit. To fail to love, to will not to love is a mortal wound on the Body, a fatal shock to the heart. It is blunt force trauma to the head and it is the death of the soul.

God is love. When we dwell in love, we dwell in God. When we refuse to love, we refuse God. Refusing God is refusing eternal life. And that, my friends, is Hell—your final decision to exclude yourself from the love of God forever. Literally: let’s not go there!

So, practically speaking, how do we fail to love? In everyday life, how do we fail to dwell in eros and thus fail to agape one another? Let’s focus on just three Big Ways we fail in order to understand how to succeed.

First, we can fail to love God and one another when we refuse to reveal God’s beauty. God’s beauty is His means of seduction, His erotic means of attracting us to Him and reeling us closer and closer to a life with Him. His beauty is our wonder, our fascination, our appreciation of His awesome glory. God’s beauty is the perfection of Being and all beings—the completed project of bringing all of creation to its fullest possible excellence. You reveal God’s beauty. Everyday. You walk in God’s beauty, you talk in God’s beauty, you sleep, eat, play, work, exercise, study in God’s beauty and you show His beauty out, you demonstrate it like a proud Hoover salesman. Just existing, merely being a creature of God makes you beautiful and you shine that glory out to the world. So, the question is: what of God’s beauty are you showing us? Do you walk, talk, sleep, eat, play, work, exercise, and study in the full knowledge that every muscle in your body, every thought in your head, your very soul shouts out the splendor of God’s beauty? In other words, do you love us—all of us—with your heart, mind, soul, strength? When you reveal, when you expose the Divine Beauty of love to the rest of us, you live your life as a prophet and a priest—you hear God and obey His Word and proclaim that Word and you offer (willingly, eagerly) your life as a sacrifice for others.

Second, we can fail to love God and one another when we refuse to reveal God’s goodness. This isn’t just about living a morally good life. That’s part of our job, of course, but the life of revealing God’s goodness is more about living out of a heart of flesh where the Law is deeply inscribed. In other words, revealing God’s goodness is not about living a life of meticulous rule-following or scrupulous regulation loving. Such a life too easily leads to a life of soul-killing hypocrisy and scandal. If the gospel today is about anything it is about the maturity of our spirituality. Love God. Love self. Love neighbor. Easily said. Each of these admonitions unpack about a thousand do’s and don’t’s. But the Father’s goodness is simple: desire nothing but His love, nothing but His approval, nothing but His strength. He is One and there is no other than He. You fail to reveal God’s goodness when your life reveals a conflict of allegiance, a confusing loyalty: what do you love more than God? What idols decorate your life? Do you worship the popular pagan gods of money, sex, substances, passions, ego? Or do you worship the seemingly baptized pagan gods of Pelagianism: rules, rubrics, rituals, edicts, and law? What sits on your heart and rules your soul, your mind, your strength? If your heart is the Word made flesh—show us! If not, shut up and listen so that your stony heart might be replaced with one of godly flesh!

Third, we can fail to love God and one another when we refuse to reveal God’s truth. Is our first impulse here to ask Pilate’s question: what is “truth”? Likely. It is the postmodern question. And one that opens the yawning gates of Hell for all those who will use their doubt—legitimate or otherwise—to dodge our Father’s truth for the sake of a false intellectual freedom. There can be no doubt that asking questions and looking for answers is fundamental to the Catholic faith. Ours is a trust that enthusiastically runs after knowing more and better what we believe to be true. But that’s where we have to start: believing what is true. Our search for understanding is not about finding evidence for our faith or finding reasons to believe. Our search for understanding is first and foremost an admission that we are ignorant in the face of all that is real and that it is our trust in the living God and the resulting humility that throws us into seeking to know Him better. And so, the question here is: do you reveal the truth of the faith to others? Even in doubt, intellectual turmoil, or raw disbelief, do you shine out the objectivity of truth, the absolute truth of what our Father has revealed to us in His Word: the Bible, the Very Good of Creation, the Word Made Flesh? Doubt is not a problem when that doubt rests in acknowledged ignorance, an admitted humility that is ready to be taught. We fail God’s truth when we assume that our ignorance is a failure on the Church’s part to adequately reason out a teaching or when we lift up—out of pride—our private intellectual judgment as superior to the 2,000 year judgment of the Body of Christ. To reveal God’s truth is to accept in faith, to trust that He is showing us what we need to know to love Him and one another, to be freed from our slavery to sin, and to be brought to Him in the end.

How do we fail to love? We do not love God or one another when we fail to live our lives as revelations of God’s beauty, goodness, and truth. When we fail to reveal His glory; when we fail to worship Him alone; and when we fail to trust His truth first and seek to understand His truth as a function of our trust, we fail to obey the first commandment Jesus gives us. These three failures result in One Big Failure for us: we will not live with God forever. Live apart from Him now and live apart from Him forever. Live with Him now and live with Him forever.

Live your day, everyday, as a revelation of God’s beauty, as a revelation of God’s goodness and truth. Ask yourself: is what I am doing right now showing those around me exactly how much God loves them? If you do this, Christ will say to you: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”