25 November 2006

Second Wedding Homily (11/25/06)

Sacrament of Matrimony
Tobit 8.4-8; Hebrews 13.1-6; Matthew 22.35-40
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

If marriage is about love then we have from Hebrews a sampling of what marriage means for Christians. Love is mutual, hospitable, empathetic, honorable, pure, contenting, a promise of care, and a cure for fear. And so is marriage. If marriage is not about love then it must be about selfishness, inhospitality, callousness, dishonor, impurity, agitation, a promise broken, and an infection of anxiety. Marriage without love is no sacrament at all but vain gesture and puffed up words, an agreement merely to tolerate someone else in your life. Much like a disagreeable rental contract or a necessary but mostly annoying roommate. Christian marriage is always about love. It must be. Because being a Christian is all about love.

To say that being a Christian is all about love is not to say that being a Christian is all about being mushy, weak-kneed, starry-eyed, and panting. Love is not just about passion; it is primarily about the Good; that is, love is essentially Who God Is for us so that we might come to Him and be with Him forever. Created to be completed in love, we seek out and sometimes find a love here and now that though no match for divine love nonetheless works to make that Love feel possible, works to make the Love we were created to be more probable.

In his first encyclical, Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI writes about the various meanings of the word “love.” He points out the word’s patriotic, familial, romantic, and neighborly meanings. He concludes, however, “Amid this multiplicity of meanings […] one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness”(n. 2b). Marriage, then, is the Christian sacrament of God’s revelation of Himself to us through the committed love of a man and woman and they become together a living witness to the promises of grace given to us at baptism.

Christian marriage cannot be about passion alone or convenience or desperation; it must be sacramental, that is, revealing of God’s presence and His work in the world. Inasmuch as an ordained priest should be a living sign to the world of Christ the Head of the Body, so the married couple ought to be a living sign of the Father’s love for His bride, the Church. God does not love as we do; God is love. Love is Who He is to us and for us.

We use the word “agape” to describe Christian love. Benedict writes in DCE, “…this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character […] Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead [agape] seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice”(n. 6). What Christian marriage will thrive unless the man and the woman find the courage of renunciation and the will to sacrifice, that is, the motivation to sanctify their lives together by setting aside selfishness—petty wants, superficial hurts, suspicions of neglect.

Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And he says that you shall do so “with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is not only a description of the Messianic fulfillment of the Mosaic Law, it is a command. You shall. Not “think about it” or “you’d be better off if you did” or “you could if you wanted to” but “you shall.” And not only “you shall” but “you shall” with every muscle, bone, and inch of flesh; with every thought, word, memory, and deed. You shall love! First God and then neighbor as self.

This is a command rather than a suggestion b/c we are weak, unfocused, fallen, and vain. Not constitutionally, mind you; but willfully…willfully weak, unfocused, and vain. And Jesus knows this. Thus the command to love. Our love for one another is too important to our holiness to be left to chance and will. Of course, we can refuse and spend eternity without Love, without God. But, knowing our inclination to habit, Jesus orders us to love and hopes the habit of loving sticks. And it does, it does often enough and powerfully enough that we see in the world bright examples of charity and mercy, living examples of mighty generosity and graced service. Christian marriage should lead us in love!

To family and friends: a warning—your participation here today requires you to not only follow the excellent example of love given to us by Larry and Christie, but it also requires you to reflect back to them the love that they shine out. In other words, you all must be ready to celebrate with them and mourn with them and support them when necessary—in the smooth times and the rough. And be ready to show them day-to-day what their ministry of marriage means to you; what their witness to God’s love for His Bride, the Church, means for us all. It is not enough to dress up, show up, stand up, sit down, and eat the buffet! There’s the “amen” here and the “amen” means “Yes, it is” and “Yes, I do.” Say “amen” with conviction and promise. B/c that is how God hears it.

Larry and Christie, Tobit and Sara prayed to the Lord on their wedding night for mercy and deliverance. They blessed the Lord and praised His name. They recounted their creation as man and woman and the need each has for the other in order to be complete. They are married for a noble purpose and ask to live together to “a happy old age.” With all that in mind, allow me to exhort you: make your love mutual—giving and returning in kind; be hospitable to one another—generous and affectionate; show empathy for each other and for others—b/c you are one body; honor each other—be faithful in thought, word, deed; let nothing and no one enslave your love—not money, not career, not things, not ideas; be ready to say without shame or hesitation: “I will never forsake you or abandon you;” and live together in holiness w/o fear, w/o rancor, w/o pining for options, w/o glancing over the fence. And love as Christ loves us.

With the Lord as our helper we have nothing to fear!

24 November 2006

Our own den of thieves?

33rd Week OT: Revelation 10.8-11 and Luke 19.45-48
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory

The temple has become a den of thieves! What was given to the people for the worship of the Lord has been made into the resting place for those who would plunder the wealth of others. Rather than offer the proper sacrifices and pray lovingly from the heart, these thieves loot the wages of the poor, stealing what little the little-ones have to offer. Though surely stealing from the poor is crime enough, these thieves compound their crime by stealing the sacrifices that were to be made to the Lord! They are robbing the poor and robbing the Lord. No wonder Jesus lets loose a storm front of righteous anger. He pronounces his judgment against the thieves by driving them out of the temple area and then he rectifies their crime. Luke writes, “And every day he was teaching in the temple area.”

How does Jesus’ teaching rectify the criminal abuse of the temple? Not only were the temple bureaucrats stealing the monetary offerings of the poor, they were also stealing their inheritance in the Law; that is, Jesus is principally upset about the fact that the sacrificial system of the temple had become mechanical, rote, easy-cheesy grace, if you will, and the core of the Law, its righteousness in love, had been stolen by professionalized legalism and religious commercialism. The thieves, in other words, steal not only money but tradition and orthodoxy as well.

Of course, what they are doing in the temple area looks perfectly traditional and orthodox b/c “it’s always been done that way.” But it is clear that the Spirit is with Jesus as he teaches the fulfillment of the Law and not just its letter, the completion of the covenant in his ministry and not just the jots and tittles of ritual. The people “hang on his words;” they are brought to attention, given the Word of life, and sent to speak that Word to others, spreading the First Commandment that accomplishes all ten of the others in a single life of love. No doubt simple expediency, daily practicalities, and common sense slowly lead the temple administration to the set the system Jesus objects to so strongly. But it is precisely the destruction of the Law’s ideal under the creeping, erosive compromises of “getting along” and “adapting to the times” that make the temple into a den of thieves.

We have to wonder how the Church compromises with the present age and makes the temple into a resting place for thieves. Have those in charge robbed us of our inheritance and given us instead airy delusions of permanent theological and litrugical revolution? Have those in charge stolen our tradition and replaced it with process, compromise, guidelines, and procedure? We can say perhaps that the Spirit of the Law was once swallowed in prissy ritualism and then freed in active participation. But now liturgical busyness and didactic wordiness drown the transcendent in gyration and syllable. We need Jesus teaching in the temple all day, everyday.

Thankfully, we have you. All of you. Living, breathing, walking tabernacles of the Lord, spreading out to witness, to teach and preach, to bring Christ as Teacher and Lord to the world. But our first witness must be to the Church. Where do you see a den of thieves? Where do you see robbery? Trespass? Fraud? Where do you see our heritage being stolen, our inheritance being spent on fashionable twaddle and private curiosity? Where is the faith’s virtue being diminished in favor of the culture’s vice? Where are you being encouraged to silence, complacency, and intimidated to compliance with the requirements of our culture of death?

We celebrate the Vietnamese martyrs today. Like the crowds in the temple area they hung on Jesus every word. However, as martyrs, they literally found themselves “hanging on his words.” Speaking the Word to a hostile culture, they died. Their lives in death continue to seed the church.

Do not let their blood water a den of thieves.

22 November 2006

Being who we ought to be while doing what we ought to do

St. Cecilia: Rev 4.1-11; Lk 19.11-28
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

(NB. Fr. J.D. is losing his voice. He asked me about an hour ago to take the noon Mass. So, this homily is a little more rushed than usual. Please pray for Fr. J.D.!)

I imagine the kingdom of God will look very much like a Chinese buffet that stretches into infinity…along the way, say, every third pan of moo goo gai pan or so there will be a Border’s store that offers deep discounts to dead but risen Dominicans. My other vision of the kingdom of God involves ice cream, fried chicken, and blow ‘em up alien movies, but the Mass must go on. My point here is pretty simple: though the kingdom of God is now for God and will be for us eventually a reign of enduring praise and thanksgiving, right now, we can let our imaginations run wild! Perhaps children imagine boundless playgrounds. Mothers imagine uninterrupted peace and quiet. Fathers see golf courses and big screen TV’s. Jesus’ disciples envisioned booting the Romans out of Judea at the point of a sword and they thought Jesus was their man to lead them. Jesus uses the parable in the gospel today “because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately.”

So, b/c they were approaching Jerusalem and b/c they thought Jesus was some sort of divine George Washington and b/c they had visions of stomping the Romans with the Son of God throwing fireballs and calling down avenging angels, b/c of all these, Jesus tells them a parable about how to wait for one’s master profitably. In other words, the kingdom is coming, yes! But we have some prep work to do in the meantime. How are you going to spend that “meantime”?

This gospel should sound familiar not only as another version of the talents parable in Matthew but also as a reinforcement of this last Sunday’s gospel. The basic idea is the same: the end is not going to look like you think it’s going to look and it’s not going to come when you think it’s going to come! Given these hard truths, we now have two questions that need to be answered together: what sort of persons ought we be and how ought we to spend the meantime btw now and the consummation of the Kingdom?

We ought to be people who are willing to cry out without fear of hypocrisy, without shame, without hesitation: “Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created.” We ought to be people who look on all that God has created for His glory and honor and spend our meantime lifting up one another as creatures who reveal—imperfectly, incompletely—as children who reveal the Father so that each of us and all of us may come to know Him more and better. We ought to be people who diffuse our heavenly gifts, who hone our graces, sharpen our talents and use them for the good of others so that God’s love might be perfected in us. We ought to be people who spend this meantime straining against spiritual isolation, prideful scruples, picayune legalism, rushed judgment and self-satisfying condemnation. We are a people to whom much has been given. We ought to be people from whom much is required.

Our Father and our Lord requires us to put the gifts he has given us to work for those around us. It is death to hide God’s gifts. It is hell on earth to refuse to live in this meantime as a man or woman for others to God’s glory. The kingdom of God will not match our wildest imaginings. Will you stand up and match up to the wildest gifts of the Spirits given for our good?

Will we say with the angels and the saints: “Worthy are you, Lord our God,to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things!”

21 November 2006

Go to Hell (or not)

Little Gidding, IV

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.

Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

--T.S. Eliot

Hell and damnation have popped up a couple of times in my homilies lately. Some have wondered why.

Is it b/c I am secretly still a Baptist and trying to subvert Vatican Two universalism?

NO. (though subverting an alleged VC2 universalism is on the agenda)

Is it b/c that deep in my heart I’m hoping all my enemies go to hell?


Is it b/c I just like a little drama in the pulpit and preaching about hell is always an easy way to get attention from the congregation?


It is b/c the gospel readings recently deal with hell?

(dingdingdingding) YES!

I try as best as I can to preach the gospel in front of me. If Jesus starts talking about throwing goats into hell b/c they didn’t feed the hungry and visit the imprisoned, then I’m going to be preaching about spiritually stingy goats roasting in hell. I’ve never made hell the point of a homily b/c Jesus never makes any of his teachings solely about hell. Hell always seems to be the conclusion of a much larger, more complicated instruction on how we should be treating his little ones among us.

The Catechism teaches us in n. 1033: “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves[…] Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’”

Notes on Hell:

1. Union with God (i.e. “heaven”) is the result of freely loving God.
2. Grave sin is a sign that we do not love God freely.
3. We separate ourselves from God when we refuse to minister to Christ’s “little ones.” (cf. Matt 25.34ff).
4. When we die in mortal sin we reject God’s love forever and live forever without Him.
5. Hell is the “definitive self-exclusion” from heaven. You excluded yourself from heaven.

Don’t wanna go to hell? Then don’t.

19 November 2006

Jesus is Coming! Look busy!

33rd Sunday OT: Daniel 12.1-3; Hebrews 10.11-14, 18; Mark 13.24-32
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

If the God’s people were surprised at the first coming of the Messiah, we will be downright shocked when he comes again. His arrival marked the beginning of an age, a time set aside for us to hear the Good News preached and taught and a time for us to make a decision about our intentions either to grow in holiness with God’s help or to rot in sin without it. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit swept over the assembled apostles and their families and friends and opened the age of Christ by anointing those gathered with the fire of His spirit. They were lifted up, shaken, enlightened, and set ablaze with the sight of a mission so simple and grand that their tongues were loosed in a manic rush to say everything sayable about God, using every word known to every man and woman and child in creation. That polyphony of voices, that cloud of uttered spirit infected larger and wider crowds, bigger and longer histories and came into those human tabernacles as the rain of Miracle Grow necessary to give the Gospel of Jesus Christ a Body, the Body of Christ, the Church! From this fecund garden of the Holy Spirit sprouted more than 2,000 years of preaching, teaching, forgiving, uniting, celebrating, living, dying, and rising again. And yes, 2,000 years of what appear to be regularly scheduled and tremendously colossal boo-boo’s, assorted bone-headed decisions, and crackpot family members embarrassing us in the paper. And even so, we get up, brush off, and continue to brightly shine.

We fall and get up because we believe that the coming of the Messiah was the just the beginning of this sanctifying roadtrip. Without being perfect right now, we are convinced that we are capable of being perfected by a God who made us for perfection and gives us everything and everyone we need to work with His gifts for the completion of our holiness. We are made to be holy. And we can be if we will but use God’s gift of His Son as our template, our exemplar.

Perfectly human and perfectly divine, Jesus Christ is one man and one god—one person, wholly and entire the only Son of the Father and our brother in the Spirit. He offered for us on the cross one sacrifice for our sins and now sits forever at the right hand of the Father. The Letter to the Hebrews reads, “For by one offering [—not the many and necessarily repetitive offerings of the temple priests—] he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.” There is no additional sacrifice necessary for our salvation. Nothing more we need do or can do to improve on or add to the redemptive work of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. We preach and teach and wait for the hour, the day, the month of his coming again—the birth of great power and great glory.

The advent of Christ’s first coming marked a period of preparation—the Law, the Prophets, his herald, John the Baptist, and finally, Mary’s fiat. The advent of Christ’s second coming, his return, is also marked as a period of preparation—the birth of the Church at Pentecost, the missionary work of the apostles, the universal establishment of his Church in the world (our triumphs, embarrassments, failures, and our holiest successes), the merciful work of the saints, and the development and defense of sound doctrine for teaching.

His first coming and his second mean that we are at once done and still working. Finished and still carrying on. The first coming of Christ saved us. His second coming will complete us. His first coming made our holiness possible. His second coming will perfect our holiness or see us dead forever. That’s hard to hear, I know. It’s harder to say, but this truth is gospel truth and its veracity testifies to God’s unfailing love for us. He loves us as Love Himself and love never dominates or forces; love never controls or condemns. If we choose to ignore this period of preparation, simply refuse to grow in holiness by failing to use our gifts for the good of others, then our Father will honor that decision. And we will live forever without Him.

The advent of the second coming of Christ—the period of preparation before his coming again—is the long, historical temptation of our souls to leap out to Love, abandon selfish will for charity, release an enslaved intellect to freedom in truth, surrender vice to virtue, and yield darkening despair to hope. Do these with God’s grace, his promised assistance, and listen again to the prophet Daniel: “[…] the wise will shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice will be like the stars forever.” Those who lead many to justice. Those who bring many into a right relationship with God. Those who by their example of excellent holiness attract many to walk a path of service to others for God’s greater glory. These saints will shine brilliantly and hang in the heavens like the stars forever.

I started by saying: if God’s people were surprised at the first coming of the Messiah, we will be downright shocked when he comes again. Why? We will be shocked b/c we do not know when he will come again. We do not know how he will come again. We do not know what any of this second coming will look like. Jesus’ own description is so vague as to be useless: dark sun, darkened moon, comets, and “the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” He will come in the clouds with angels. He does tell us though to learn from the fig tree. We know that summer is near when the fig tree becomes tender and sprouts leaves. The lesson? Watch for the signs Jesus has given us and know that he is near. Is this helpful? Not really. Unless we say that the signs are constantly with us and so our vigil for his coming again must be constant as well.

Peter writes: “Since all [of creation is] thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God[…]? Excellent question and one far more important than playing decoder games with biblical texts and the weather. Given the advent of the second coming, what sort of person ought you to be? And this is surely the point. You might wonder: what’s Jesus waiting for? Surely the world cannot be a bigger mess; surely we cannot become more self-destructive, angrier, greedier, more hostile to peace and the poor! He’s waiting on you. Me. All of us. He waiting for us and our repentance. Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

Add these to your to do list for next few months: hear and see the Word in the world; preach and teach the Good News of repentance and forgiveness; do good works for the glory of God; grow and grow in holiness not just by avoiding sin but by embracing grace; let your every word, your every move shout joy to the world; and repent, offer contrition, seek forgiveness, do penance, and for Christ’s sake—literally, for the sake of our Lord—live like a redeemed child of our loving Father!