24 December 2007

And again & again & again. . .

December 24 (Morning Mass): 2 Sam 7.1-5, 8-16 and Luke 1.67-79
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Zechariah’s tongue, struck mute by the archangel Gabriel as a punishment for his failure to trust God’s plan, is now unstuck at the birth of his son, John, and Zechariah wisely uses his first words to praise the Lord, the God of Israel. And more than praise God he blesses God and recounts as a memorial all that God has done for the people of Israel. And more than praise God and bless God for His mighty deeds, Zechariah prophesies his son’s task and the future-history of his people. This canticle, called the Benedictus, is so much a part of our lives of prayer together—we pray it every morning—that I wonder if we really hear it anymore. In poetry, repetition is used to emphasize the importance of a word or concept or emotion. Repetition in prayer inscribes, writes on the heart and mind of the one praying a Word or Deed, spoken and done, a word or deed that reveals God to us and reminds us each time we pray that we live and move and have our being in the promises of God. John was promised to Zechariah and Elizabeth. John’s coming heralds the coming of the Christ. And so, today, for one more day, we wait—praising, blessing, prophesying, anticipating the arrival of the Christ Child among us. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel!

Repetition is a means of remembering and forgetting. What is written can be read and misread. What is written can be true and false. In repetition, we can know better or forget more. The familiarity of recitation becomes the comfort of knowing-well and knowing-well what we pray can become an inauthentic mumble, the vain repetition of small noises. However, we know that Zechariah’s witness to our salvation history is authentic, and delivered with authority, precisely because his tongue was struck mute by the archangel. His initial seed of doubt is contained. Held in, dammed up, given over to silence and the methodical march of the calendar. Like the infant in his wife’s womb, Zechariah’s doubt gestates for nine months, maturing, distilling, insistently progressing toward its term and its inevitable, exuberant birth! From doubt to praise. From anxiety to blessing. From silence to prophecy. Zechariah’s prayer, like his son and the Christ his son announces, is a dawning, a daybreak, a morning of mornings.

Our God has come to his people—again. He has set us free—again—this time by raising up from the house of David the king, a powerful savior, the Christ. He has saved us—again—from the harm our enemies would do to us. He has—again—made good on His promises to be our God by showing our ancestors an undeserved mercy. He shows us that He has once again remembered the covenant He swore to Abraham, our father in faith. His vow to us to save us from our enemies, to set us free to worship Him, rejoicing and singing, to make us holy and righteous; this vow He has—again—kept in perfect love.

Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s son, John, prepares the way of the Christ by baptizing with water for repentance, a turning from sin with forgiveness that prepares us, leaves us knowing that our salvation is at hand. Praying this prayer, repeating the praise, blessing, and prophecy of Zechariah, brings to our hearts and minds again the coming dawn from on high. And we, those who dwell in the dark and live in the shadow of death, we are guided—again—on the way to peace. Forever we will sing the goodness of the Lord because we will forever sing the canticle of blessing that greets John on his birth as prophet and herald of the Lord, The Lord—Wisdom of God, Lord of Israel, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Radiant Dawn, King of Nations, and again, tomorrow, Emmanuel, “God-is-with-us”!

23 December 2007

God is dead. . .now to mourn. . .

4th Sunday of Advent: Isa 7.10-14; Rom 1.1-7; Matt 1.18-24
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul Hospital, Dallas, TX

[Wow...you can really hear my southern accent coming through on this podcast!]

On this chilly December morning in Dallas, TX, this fourth Sunday of Advent 2007, just two days from the solemn celebration of our Lord’s Nativity, with a heart ready to open in prayer, a mind waiting to learn the truth, a stomach eager for some ham and pecan pie, and with my bags packed to head home to Mississippi, on this chilly morning, I greet you with this bit of news: “God is dead.” He passed peacefully while we slept; unexpectedly, He passed while we weren’t paying attention. God is dead. And now, we must mourn. . .even as the birth of Christ approaches, we must mourn the passing of our God. How do we mourn the death of a deity?

Before we ask that question again and answer it, let’s ask a question about the God’s death. As long ago as 1965, the American theologian, William Hamilton, asked our question for us: “What does it mean to say that God is dead? Is this any more than a rather romantic way of pointing to the traditional difficulty of speaking about the holy God in human terms? Is it any more than writing against all idols, all divinities fashioned out of human need, human ideologies? Does it perhaps not just mean that ‘existence is not an appropriate word to ascribe to God, that therefore he cannot be said to exist, and he is in that sense dead’”(27-8)? Hamilton argues that the “death of God” means all of these and more besides. But as we fall toward the celebration of our dead God’s Son’s birth on Christmas, this observation, made by Hamilton, hits us with the truth, and hits us squarely in the heart: “God is dead. We are not talking about the absence of the experience of God, but the experience of the absence of God”(28). In other words, God is dead to us insofar as we experience His absence in our lives. Think about all those times when He failed to “show up” when you most needed and wanted Him. Those dark nights of mourning when His smallest touch or quiet word would have healed your despairing grief. That disappointment is the death of God.

If God is dead, how do we mourn? There are at least two that we mourn the passing of our God. If you find the death of God worrisome, downright anxiety-producing and dangerous, then you might mourn His death by building strong stone monuments of His existence, by writing wordy systems that describe His presence, that inscribe His “being-here-with-us” into our daily language, our everyday living-together-rules. And these monuments of stone and ink slowly, over time, replace the God of the Old and New Covenants, the once thriving God of Abraham and Jesus. If, however, you experience the death of God as liberating event in human history, a freeing of the creaturely spirit from the prison of a jealous deity to explore and evolve, then you might mourn His passing by pulling down His monuments, burning all those pages of ink with their empty words and hollow sentiments. And your revelry of revolutionary destruction will itself become a god to be praised, to be worshiped—the Human, not the merely human, but the Human Freed is set on the altar. I said that you might mourn in either of these two ways. In fact, we have mourned in exactly these two ways. Our stone monuments and our revolutionary fires have become for us idols, mere creatures of creatures toted on the shoulders of the Disappointed and Despairing, and praised precisely b/c each is so easily within our grasp, each so easily controlled. They are idols. And there is no quicker, no more sure way for us to kill God than to make of Him an idol, for us to make God into Man.

This temptation—to make God in our own image and likeness—is overwhelmed in the solemnity of our Lord’s Nativity, in the celebration of the birth of Christ among us. All of this talk about the death of God and how we mourn His passing leads us to the fourth Sunday of Advent where we continue to wait, continue to anticipate, where we hold still and silent for the introduction of God’s Word into human history. Christmas for Christians cannot be Santa Claus, holiday sales, wrapping paper, trees and wreaths, family meals, and getting presents. All of these are happy-enough traditions as they are. But Christmas—the birth of our Lord among us—is God’s sign, God’s wonder-work, God’s promise-fulfilled, His gift of Himself to us: not as a monument, not as a doctrine, not as a holiday or feast, not even as a memorial or a solemnity. Christmas is the Very Gift of God Himself to us. He is born as a child for no other reason than to be our living God in history—yearly, monthly, daily, He is Emmanuel, “God is with us.”

When we create God in the image and likeness of Man, we sculpt an idol and raise a temple around it. That temple can be stone, brick, abstract idea, notion; it can be wooden, golden, paper and ink; our temple can be a belief, an emotion, an intellectual game, or a political ideology. But for this deity, our Man-made god, to be real for us, we must first kill the Living God and mourn His passing. Only then can our disappointment at His absence, or our relief at His demise grow into a full-blown idolatry, a truly man-made, man-centered, man-empowered theology of Man.

So, who will kill Him? Who will step up and slay our divine jailer so that we might be free? Santa Claus? Papa Noel? The Easter Bunny? One of the North Pole elves? Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer? The CEO of Wal-Mart? Target? Macy’s? They needn’t bother. It seems that you and I are all too ready to do the dirty deed. Let me ask you (and myself!): have we waited, truly waited on the coming of the Lord? I mean, have we used our Advent time to prepare for the introduction of the Christ Child into history? Have we prepared for the coming of the Lord, or have we waited on shopping days, half-off sales, post-holiday clearances? Have we helped our ulcers to grow by fretting over family problems? Have we put aside the Joy that is coming in favor of the work to be done? Will the Christ Child arrive to find us eager to greet him, or just ready for it all to be over? I have a flight to catch. Security checks. Lines. Crowded planes. Baggage claim. Car rental. Credit card bills. Expectant family and friends. Deep cuts, old wounds. You might protest here, “But Father, we are only human! This is what happens to us.” Yes, it does. And because it does, we have a living God Who becomes one of us to free us from exactly this kind of dis-ease, this kind of faithlessness. We must live with Him to be free!

Here’s the Good News: our failures are not permanent; our lapses in faith will not endure. Having been “called to belong to Jesus Christ,” we are set up to be free, made to be liberated from the need for idols. Ahaz needs no sign—nothing high nor deep—because he wills not to tempt the Lord. We have no need of a sign from our living God b/c we know what’s coming, who’s coming. Even as we layer the nativity feast with our consumerist anxieties, we rejoice way down deep that the sign we have been given—“a virgin will conceive and bear a son”—we rejoice that this sign has come to pass. And for all our missteps and mistakes in making this feast about our living God, we welcome Him as our gift. Wrapped not in paper and ribbon but in flesh like our own, we welcome and accept the gift of the Christ Child, and beg his Father to show us how to be gifts to one another.

Rejoice! The gods of our idols are dead. Now, “let the Lord enter, He is the king of glory!”

Altizer, Thomas J.J. and William Hamilton, Radical Theology and the Death of God, 1966.

21 December 2007

Where's your Christmas face?

3rd Week of Advent(F): Zeph 3.14-18 and Luke 1.39-45
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Serra Club & Church of the Incarnation

Joseph is worried because his wife, Mary is pregnant. They have yet to consummate their betrothal. An angel appears to Joseph is a dream and says, “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.” Zechariah, while serving his allotted time before the altar of incense in the temple, is greeted by an angel. The angelic greeting troubles him and “fear came upon him.” The angel tells him that his elderly, barren wife, Elizabeth will conceive and bear him a son, John. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Hail, Mary! Full of grace. Blessed are you among women!” And Mary ponders what sort of greeting this might be. Mary travels to the hill country of Judah. She enters the house of Zechariah and greets Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting she is filled with the Holy Spirit, and the infant in her womb leaps with joy. Elizabeth must have pondered what sort of greeting might cause her child such joy. She asks, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” What better place for our infant Lord to be than with his infant herald, John? Elizabeth concludes her greeting: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Joseph worried and then believed. Zechariah doubted, at first, but he came to believe. Mary, afraid and anxious, not only believed but gave her body so that the Word might gestate within her womb and be born from her. And Elizabeth believed in virtue of her infant son’s witness to her: “For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped with joy.” Each of our gospel witnesses were greeted and given a revelation. Each received the revelation. And each obeyed the Lord’s message. Notice this difference: Joseph, Zechariah, and Mary were all greeted by an angel of the Lord. At first they were anxious and afraid. But the angelic message soothed their fears. Elizabeth, however, was greeted by Mary, who carried our Lord in her womb. No angels here. No fear or anxiety. No doubting or hesitation. The direct testimony of infant John’s leaping in her womb told Elizabeth what she needed to know: she and her child were in the presence of the Son of God. Before John is born, Mary serves as the Lord’s herald, announcing with her presence—not by any word or any deed—just by merely being there with Elizabeth and baby John, Mary announces the coming of the Lord. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Let me ask you: how are you arriving at Christmas? I mean, Christmas is just four days away…in what state will you greet the birth of our Lord? Will you stumble into the manger loaded with shopping bags? Cookbooks? Will you glide in, smooth and sleek like a reindeer? Will you fall on your face, exhausted and mean from all the work you think the holiday requires? Will you greet the Infant Jesus smiling, laughing; pinched and grimacing; eagerly, sullenly, joyfully, reluctantly? Will he look back at you and ponder what sort of greeting you have given him? Will he think: “I am welcomed here!” Or, “Geez, I landed at the wrong barn.” Will it be: “These people love me.” Or, “These people fear me.”

To be on the safe side, use the words of the prophet Zephaniah to greet our Lord: “The Lord, your God, is in our midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over us with gladness, and renew us in his love!” How odd that our Lord should rejoice over us. Not really, no: “Blessed are we who believed that what was spoken to us by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Our Lord is coming! Prepare your face so that when you greet him, he might see himself in you.

20 December 2007

A new blog. . .

Suppl(e)Mental. . .a new blog!

I created this blog for my seminar on post-metaphysical theologies. . .

My students and I will use this blog to post short essays, reflections, critiques, musings about the reading assignments for the class.

Posting on the site will be a regular part of the seminar, so these ventures into the truly weird world of post-metaphysical theology will be ad experimentum.

19 December 2007

Empty out to be filled up

3rd Week of Advent (W): Judges 13.2-7, 24-25 and Luke 1.5-25
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

[One of the novices said that this homily is "kinda blah." I agree. My insomnia is catching up with me. . .]

Zechariah is troubled, and fear comes upon him. Gabriel, the archangel, is telling him that Elizabeth, his barren wife, will conceive a son and that that son will grow up to become the prophet, John the Baptist, whose mission it will be to herald the coming of the Christ. For one second, just a flash of small wonderment, Zechariah, almost whispering, asks the angel, “How shall I know this?” The price for his passing doubt, his lapse in trust is the loss of his ability to speak. He is struck mute. His tongue will be untied when Gabriel’s announcement comes to pass, when John the Baptist is born. Why is silence the proper punishment for Zechariah’s anxiety?

You might wonder at Zechariah’s doubt. Here he is in the temple, chosen by lots to offer the sacrifice of incense, and the archangel, Gabriel, appears to him with a message from God. Gabriel calmly delivers the message with some detail and then pauses for Zechariah’s answer. And what does the priest do? He asks for a sign, something like a confirmation code! Let’s see: how about an archangel materializing out of a cloud of incense in the holy of holies! Zechariah’s desire for a confirming sign is taken by Gabriel to be a sign of the priest’s weakness. Neither John or the Christ will be best served by a weak heart or a weak tongue. This is a time for strength, conviction, and prophetic zeal! So, the angel silences Zechariah’s doubting tongue to keep him from speaking foolishly about God’s plan.

The 14th century Dominican mystic, John Tauler, preaches: “God cannot leave things empty; that would be to contradict his own nature and justice. Therefore, you must be silent. Then the Word of this birth can be spoken in you and you will be able to hear him. But be certain of this: if you try to speak then He must be silent. There is no better way of serving the Word than in being silent and listening. So if you come out of yourself completely, God will wholly enter in; to the degree you come out, to that degree will he enter, neither more nor less.” Perhaps Gabriel’s judgment on the priest was medicinal, that is, Zechariah’s involuntary silence was actually an opportunity, as Tauler argues, “to come out of [himself] completely,” so that God might wholly enter in. It seems impossible that one tongue could speak both doubt and belief, dissent and allegiance. By silencing his doubting tongue, Gabriel gave Zechariah a chance to cultivate his belief and his allegiance. How much more powerful then is his witness when John is born!

Advent is winter’s Lent. To the face of Christmas abundance and extravagance we must show some measure of austerity, make some small challenge to be less full, closer to empty. When we empty self, God fills up. And the power and conviction and prophetic zeal of our witness to Christ is charged with the Holy Spirit, a fiery tongue for proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom! Live just today with this austere fast: fast from doubt, fear, anxiety, and make your hope in the coming of Christ known—word or deed, but known and known well.

17 December 2007

Root to trunk to branch to flower

3rd Week Advent(M): Genesis 49.2, 8-10 and Matthew 1.1-17
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Beyond tongue-tying dyslexic presiders at 7.00am, what purpose does this genealogy serve? Over your many years as Catholics you have heard many explanations. The genealogy establishes Jesus’ lineage as David’s heir to the throne of Israel. The genealogy shows us Mary’s place in the long history of a male-dominated culture. The genealogy reaches back and back into the graying mist of near-legend and story to retrieve a solid rock of evidence that Jesus is the Christ. The genealogy begins the gospel of Matthew as a way of giving legitimacy and authority to a gospel told to the Jewish people about their long-awaited Messiah. None of these is wrong. And there many more. What these explanations have in common is a singular notion of genealogy—tracing back a familial line through history in order to show a person his or her origins. Bear with me while I give you a slightly different definition of genealogy and provide another theological interpretation.

Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, opens his 1977 essay, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” with the following, “Genealogy is gray, meticulous, and patiently documentary. It operates on a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times.” Towards the end of that essay he writes, “The purpose of history, guided by genealogy, is not to discover the roots of our identity but to commit itself to its dissipation.” At the risk of taxing our morning brains with French philosophy, let’s say that what Foucault is proposing here is that genealogy is really about dispersing one’s identity rather than firming it up; in other words, we trace a family line not to find our where we’re from but rather to find out how large we’ve become, how scattered (like seed) we are—as a family, a tribe, a nation, even as a person firmly glued within a history.

Now, back to Jesus. As Christians, we read out Jesus’ familial genealogy this time every year to show again where Jesus came from, to show that he has the basic qualification to be the Christ—he is heir to the throne of David. But as Christians we do not doubt this bit of history. Even without the genealogy we have experienced Jesus as the Christ and struggle to live our collected lives as his followers, as his body. We are, however, more than just followers. And we are more than just members of his body, the Church. We are on our way to becoming Christ himself. If Foucault is right about his notion of genealogy in general, then we have in this particular genealogy a record of the dissipation of Jesus’ identity into the body: “Of [Mary] was born Jesus who is called the Christ.”

Why does this matter? It matters to us b/c as we approach the birth of our Savior, we are forced to remember our own nativity and more than just our own births: we are forced to remember our rebirth in Christ, our coming again into the world as Christs. Jesus’ lineage is our lineage; his history is our history. And what’s more, we are charged, commissioned by Christ himself to live lives of dissipation, not decadence or debauchery, but lives of active dispersal—going out, growing deeper, spreading further, blooming more, producing more and better fruit, grafting others onto Jesse’s branch, and branching and branching up until he comes again and claims his orchard harvest. This bit of genealogical knowledge is not wisdom in itself, but surely it is wise to know that each of us and all of us together are heirs to David’s throne—priests, prophets, and kings, all given the delicate but arduous task of being the Father’s Christ in the world.

May his name and ours be blessed forever!

16 December 2007

Impatient? Rejoice!

3rd Sunday of Advent(A): Isa 35.1-6, 10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

Parched lands can wait on an abundant flowering; deserts can wait to rejoice—shouting joy, exulting in bloom. Those who cannot see, wait to see. Those who cannot hear, wait to hear. The lame wait to leap and the mute wait to sing. If your heart is frightened, anxious; if you fret because you cannot wait: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God…He comes to save you.” But first, you must wait. And you must wait with the rest of us…

I made the mistake of going to WalMart on a Saturday. Walking into the store, I was immediately confronted by my mistake. Wall to wall people. I sucked up my frustration and more or less bullied my way in. The aisles were packed with people and carts. Families buzzing around baskets of goodies for Christmas. An older couple slowly pushing an empty cart. College students on cell phones loudly cursing and laughing. I heard spoken Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Hindi, English, and Teenager. The building throbbed with the pain of crowded impatience. And I must confess, I brought no joy to the suffering herd. Rather, I threw in with the rest of the cattle and MOO’ed and shoved my way in to get my way out. Leaving, I felt oily and smelled of sulphur.

“Be patient,” James writes, “until the coming of the Lord.” The farmer can wait for the fruit of his labor, receiving in due time the harvest promised by his hopeful sowing of spring seed. The early rains will come early. And the late rains will come late. As always. Being patient with what will come, the farmer waits and receives. Therefore, James writes, “You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Isaiah prophesies the healing of the blind, the deaf, the mute, and the lame at the coming of the Lord. They wait in affliction for their wholeness. The farmer waits with his need; his annual labor of joyful hope—planting seed, tending crops, harvesting the fruit. Can we wait on what has been promised to us?

I’m getting better. Yesterday in traffic, I only wished twice that my 1995 Honda Accord came equipped with phasers and photon torpedoes. Today will be hard though. The Cowboys play at Texas stadium (just two blocks from the priory). Here my dream vehicle morphs into a 40 ton stone loader with a sweeping steel wedge on the front. I’ll save the phasers for the boneheads who jump the light and block the intersection! Then my impatience reminds me of the woman at WalMart who juggled her many purchases, a baby, and her purse while trying (unsuccessfully) to use the self-service checkout station—apparently the friend she was talking to on her cell was no help at all. Then there were the fourteen Boy Scouts in line at my favorite fast food place. The creeping internet service of Starbuck’s WiFi. The hours it takes for my friends in Europe to respond to an email. The Fred Flintstone copying machine in campus ministry—I swear there must be a literate squirrel in there, pen and paper in paw. And then I think, “You must be patient!” And then I think things that I can’t share with you, and then I remember the Psalm: “the Lord thwarts the ways of the wicked; He shall reign forever!”

John the Baptist, waiting in prison, heard about the ministry of Jesus and sent his disciples to ask Jesus a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Do we hear a bit of impatience in this question? Is John getting anxious? Surely, John the Baptist, the herald of the Father’s Christ, knows that Jesus is the one to come! Why this question then? Notice how Jesus answers: “Go and tell John what you hear and see…” John, knowing that Jesus is who he says he is, sends his own disciples to Jesus so that Jesus can make them preachers of his Good News. Go and tell what you hear and see. That’s what preachers do. And notice what Jesus highlights as the content of their witness: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are clean, the deaf hear, the dead live, and the good news of God’s mercy is preached to the poor. In other words, the wrecked world of sin is righted and the righteous reign of God is at hand. Preach that and take no offense!

Jesus then turns to the crowd remaining and extols John as his herald, as the one-who-comes-before. Lifting him up as his messenger, Jesus quotes Isaiah, “he will prepare your way before you.” No 40 ton stone loaders with steel wedges will be necessary. Hold your phaser fire. Unload the photon torpedoes. John has come and baptized with water for repentance. Christ has come and baptizes (even now!) with fire and Spirit for eternal life. John preached in the desert and baptized in the Jordan. Jesus asks the crowd, “What did you go out to the desert to see?” The things of the desert? A prince or king? “To see a prophet?” Yes, of course, you went into the desert to see a prophet! But why? We must be prepared to hear and see the Word. We must be told that the Word of God is coming. We must be reminded that he is among us already. We wait for his coming. And we rejoice because he is here! Be strong, fear not! Here is your God…he comes to save you.

Impatience is a vicious habit, a routine way of butting your head against the inevitability of having to move through space and time toward a goal that has already been reached. If Christ is fully God and fully Man, then it must be the case that we, all of humanity, that we have arrived at our redeemed destination. But we experience life here as an anxious separation, that worried gap between what we know is our perfection and what we know our sinful selves to be: broken, unfulfilled, and driven by a hazardous annoyance to be done with it. Impatience is our blindness, our deafness, our disability. Impatience is the public profession of our doubt in the providence of God, an abject failure to trust that every second is a moment graced by God to bring us back to Him. We feel that gap so intensely because our desire, our longing and hunger to be with God is greater than any product WalMart has for sale, greater than any merchandise Amazon.com might offer at a discount. But the emptiness in us can be vast, night-black, suffocating. Patience then is nothing more than our living prayer of gratitude, our lived lives of praise for the God of promises fulfilled.

Can we wait on what has been promised to us? The bone-crushing pressure of final papers, exams, travel home, plans for next year, holiday shopping, cooking, visiting, family feuds, parental expectations, sibling rivalries, disappointments, anger; the stifling hurts of long histories, money problems, failed marriages, successful friends; a looming horizon and no where to go, no one to see—these are not the promises made to you. Nor were you promised reprieve from them. You are promised, we are all promised that no matter what may come, our Lord is already here and nothing made can stand against him. And so, we rejoice! If cannot rejoice or will not rejoice, then let me ask you: what did you come here to see? Why are you here if not to have your hands strengthen, your back straightened, your head cleared, and your heart filled?

Be strong, fear not! Here is your God!

14 December 2007

Not for just any reason...

St. John of the Cross: 1 Cor 2.1-10 and Luke 14.25-33
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ. of Dallas

A great crowd travels around with Jesus. In this crowd are the intellectually interested, the superstitiously curious; those hungry for bread and holiness; those thirsty for hope and some good news. Traveling with him are those who beg his healing touch, his soothing word. Some truly believe, some only half-believe but are willing to gamble. Still others are itching for a magic show; or eager for some violence, wait on the Romans to show up and give Jesus and his heretical cadre a good beating. Jesus knows their hearts, their minds. He knows their needs and their ambitions. He also know what it will take for any one of them to truly Follow his Way…as opposed merely traveling with him. Always intent on telling the truth, he turns to them and says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his [family and friends] and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple […] everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Disappointment, anger, frustration, fear, despair—all of these must surged out of the crowd and washed over our Lord as he stood there simply speaking the truth: nothing merely human—not wisdom or curiosity or desperate need—provides sufficient reason or support for picking up a cross and following Christ. Why then would anyone shoulder a cross and struggle behind a man condemned to a criminal’s death?

Paul writes to the Corinthians, confessing to them that when he came to them, “proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come [to you] with sublimity of words or of wisdom […] I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling […], not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power…” Exactly! Paul went to the Corinthians to show them God not to argue for God or to sway them to God with florid rhetoric. It was human wisdom that he sought to overthrow—the narrow, servile, belly-centered idolatry of the Self that held the Corinthians in slavery to sin. Paul understood as a matter of his own experience and history that no philosophy, no argument, no scholastic allegiance could persuade him to pick up voluntarily a cross and walk behind Jesus, the condemned rebel and King of the Jews. What Paul understood as a matter of his experience and history is that following Christ to his cross and beyond is a matter of “spirit and power,” a matter of finding yourself unfinished, incomplete and desiring, longing from the very roots of your being to be finished, to be completed. How can you be convinced to desire your completion? How can anyone persuade us to seek out our perfection, especially when our lack of perfection, the incompleteness of our lives is so obviously and painfully debilitating?

Why then would anyone shoulder a cross and struggle behind a man condemned to a criminal’s death? For the stark and perhaps terrifying reason that to do anything else leaves us barren, stunted, and wanting. Can you imagine needing to follow Christ? Needing to find yourself behind him? Is that need about intellectual assent? Is that need about cataloging propositional assertions of doctrine? No! Our need for Christ is the need of the starving for food, the need of the lonely for friends, the need of the imprisoned for hope. This is why Jesus seemly sets the bar so high to become his disciple…. not out of elitism or a desire to torment us, but rather out of what he knows to be the cost of satisfying—truly satiating—the gnawing emptiness that only he can fill.

It is his life, his death that quiets our need; his life, his death that feeds our broken lives what they need.

12 December 2007

The Door!

Thanks to Mark Shea I have rediscovered The Wittenburg Door!

Way back in the 80's when I was a LibProt, I subscribed to the Door. The mag was quite literally a photocopied, hand-folded, black and white typed (yes, TYPED!) little rag that put me on the floor laughing every time.

Fair warning: if you don't have a sense of humor about religion. . .avoid this site at all costs. You will NOT be amused.

From the site:

Top 10 Reasons For Subscribing to The Wittenburg Door:

10. You can’t spell Wittenberg either.

9. You can’t tell the serious interviews from the real ones.

8. You want to become part of a grand tradition: the few, the proud, the theologically confused.

7. Because humor has coexisted with religion since Balaam conversed with his ass. (Numbers 23: 28-31)

6. You may go to hell if you don’t.

5. There are no dirty pictures (with the sole exception of the 1996 Polaroid of W.V. Grant’s bare ass, which is not to be confused with the ass in Numbers 23).

4. The only dirty words are safely hidden in King James verses (see repeated juvenile references to Numbers 23).

3. Your mother told you not to.

2. You can discover the only person in your town likely to go on a date with you (based on our demographic profile of roughly 1.8 readers per city).

1. If you come here all the time and never subscribe to the magazine, your name and contact information will be given to a Benny Hinn telephone prayer counselor who believes you’re a billionaire.

11 December 2007

Lupe! Pray for us...

Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe, mystical rose, intercede for the Church, protect the Holy Father, help all who invoke you in their necessities. Since you are the ever Virgin Mary and Mother of the true God, obtain for us from your most holy Son the grace of a firm and a sure hope amid the bitterness of life, as well as an ardent love and the precious gift of final perseverance.
In the spring of 1981, I went with my junior Spanish class to Mexico City. During a visit to the newly opened shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I received my vocation to the priesthood. It took me seventeen years to finally say yes to God's call. . .and I am very happy to have come to my senses!

I consider Guadalupe my Patroness and ask for her intercession with our Lord for the health and safety of family in Mississippi and my friends all over the world...

Philosophy humor


Hilarious philosophy humor: Kant vs. Nietzsche: Who's Better for America?

I'm still sitting on the fence. . .maybe Aquinas will make a late entry on the Libertarian Party ticket!

Remember: moderation in all things. . .including moderation.

10 December 2007

Our faith, your healing

2nd Week Advent (M): Isa 35.1-10 and Luke 5.17-26
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

In his 1944 existentialist play, No Exit, French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre declared, “Hell is other people.” On one of the last episodes of Angel, the main character, Angel, a vampire with a soul turned private detective, the one who dated Buffy on her show, acquires a magical ring that allows him to travel to Hell where he intends to confront Satan himself. In a not-so-Dantesque device, he rides a service elevator straight down to Hell itself. After a lengthy ride down, the doors open, our hero is poised to do battle with every kind of vile demon imaginable. Instead, when the doors open we see the exact same street scene we saw when our hero got in the elevator. Apparently, Hell is wherever you are and the demons we battle do not always live in That Special Place. One more: that wonderful Twilight Zone episode with Anthony Burgess. Burgess plays an impatient, bespectacled misanthrope librarian who just wants to be left alone to read his books. War breaks out and he survives the destruction of mankind. He rejoices b/c, as the last man on Earth, he now has all the time he needs to read. While celebrating on the steps of the New York Public Library, he fall and breaks his only pair of glasses. Perhaps Hell is no other people.

Jesus teaches his disciples that there is a connection to be made between sin and sickness. He heals the paralyzed man by forgiving him his sins. This causes the persnickety Pharisees to fall all over themselves accusing him of blasphemy for daring to presume that he can forgive anyone’s sin. The point of the scene is to show us Christ’s healing power and to reinforce his claim that he is the Messiah. That’s evident. But what we might overlook is the small detail that makes this scene truly instructive. The paralyzed man is carried by his friends to the house where Jesus is teaching. Because they cannot reach him through the crowd, they climb over the crowd to the roof of the house and lower the man through the ceiling on a stretcher. The man’s friends lower him to rest directly in front of Christ as he preaches. Luke writes, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said [to the man] ‘As for you, your sins are forgiven.’” Did you catch that?

The genius of our faith is the bizarre religious notion we borrow from our Jewish ancestors that we are saved as a body and not as individuals—as a nation, a people, a tribe and not as Me Alone. We are in-corp-orated—that is, embodied—into the Body of Christ through baptism. We live out our spiritual lives by attending to the regularly celebrated public sacraments of the Church. Jesus heals the paralyzed man not because the man is particularly pious or holy or because he is a great benefactor of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus heals the man of his sin and sickness because of the faith of his friends! Their trust in God, their hope in the healing power of truth and mercy, their love of their friend moves Jesus to act.

Quite literally, the man’s friends “make straight the path of the Lord” and they walk that path straight to Jesus, carrying their paralyzed friend. So that the Pharisees might know that he is who he says he is, our Lord, says to the man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” And he does, thus letting us all, all flesh, all nations see the salvation of God. Sartre would have seen these men and their love for him as Hell. Angel would have walked into that house and observed a mundane image of the devil’s lair. Our librarian friend with the broken glasses would regret his impatience and long for someone to read to him. In their isolation and despair, these men would find their “definitive self-exclusion from the presence of God.”

We cannot come to Christ alone. We cannot baptize ourselves. Forgive our own sins. Nor can we bear witness to God’s healing power if we stand alone. Therefore, let astonishment seize you and glorify God to all flesh, all nations. Though you have seen incredible things up til now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

09 December 2007

Book Apologia

Just a few minutes ago I rejected an anonymous comment made on my post, "Shameless Christmas Book Begging."

The commenter criticized me for spending so much time on this site asking readers to purchase books for me. Fair enough. I'll address this below.

The commenter also made a comment about my future assignment in Rome that leads me to conclude that the commenter can only be a fellow Dominican-- one w/o the guts to sign his name. Very sad indeed.

I rejected the comment b/c it uncharitably speculated about my superiors motivations for assigning me to the Angelicum in Rome. 'Nuff said.

Now, do I book-beg too much? Yes, I do. Or, rather, I beg more than people are probably used to hearing priests/religious beg. But here's what you need to know:

1). As a mendicant, I am supposed to beg. I could set up a donate button and harp on that.

2). No one is required to buy me anything. In fact, if I had to guess I would say that 90% of the books purchased for me in the last two years have come from the same ten readers.

3). No one is required to read the "begging posts." Just skip them.

4). Many readers have written to tell me that they have found excellent books of poetry and theology from looking at my lists.

5). I frequently get emails from readers asking me what I want or could use for Christmas/birthday/ feastday, etc. It's prudent to have a gift registry ready to go.

6). I get books sent to me that aren't on my list.

7). The books I have received from benefactors are books I would have purchased for myself anyway. It would have taken longer given the amount we receive per month for a stipend. . .

8). All of the books I have on my lists are for my professional development and the benefit of those who read/listen to my homilies. My university students also frequently benefit from the gifts I receive here b/c I use the texts in class lectures.

Thanks for the great books! Keep 'em comin'!

God bless, Fr. Philip, OP

08 December 2007

I ain't waitin' on Santa Claus...

2nd Sunday Advent (A): Isa 11.1-10; Rom 15.4-9; Matt 3.1-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

[NB. If you don’t care for my more “evangelical” homilies, you might want to skip this one!]

We are told again and again during Advent that we must wait. Sit still. Anticipate. Be watchful. Alert. Just…wait. And hope. Expect and hope. Soon now, very soon. Keep hoping, keep hoping, keep hoping. Fortunately, we are assured by Paul in his letter to the Romans that “by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Endurance, indeed. What is it that we are waiting for? For whom do we wait? And why must we endure? Wait a minute, why do we need encouragement to endure!? That doesn’t sound all that attractive! Don’t we encourage one another in grief or sorrow or when some devastating event has crushed all hope? Strengthen my heart to last, O Lord. Strengthen my heart to suffer well until the coming of your Son! And may I with him produce good fruit. Again, who is it that we wait for?

We wait for: Jesus the Just Judge, eyes radiant with his Father’s mercy; Christ the King, right hand lifted high in blessing; Jesus the transfigured sacrifice of Mt Tabor, sign of the Father’s promise of resurrection; Jesus the entombed, wrapped in burial clothe and laid to rest in his grave; Christ the broken man of the cross, lifted off by Joseph and washed for burial; Jesus, “the King of the Jews,” nailed hands and feet to the cross, admitting to heaven the crucified but repentant thief; Christ the scorned, the beaten, the one betrayed in the garden; Jesus the revolutionary criminal, arrested and abandoned by his friends; Christ the Bread of Life, the Cup of Salvation, given for us at Passover; Jesus the teacher, who teaches only truth; Christ the preacher, who preaches repentance and mercy; Jesus the healer, who draws out the faith of the sick, the crippled, the unclean and makes them whole; Christ at the wedding feast, the Son of Mary, changing water to wine, the first sign of his ministry to come; Jesus the baptized, raising from the Jordan at the hands of John; Christ the beloved son, the one to whom we must listen; Jesus the student in the temple, learning the Law and its fulfillment; Christ the misplaced boy, teaching his elders in the synagogue. Jesus, the God-child asleep in his bed of straw; Christ the newborn, receiving the reverend Magi; Jesus, the Spirit of God who overshadowed his Mother and ours to be born a man like us; Christ the Word at Creation, Wisdom at his Father’s side, prophet of reconciliation, instrument of both division and peace; we wait for the coming of the shoot from Jesse’s branch, Christ Jesus, Lord, Emmanuel, God-with-Us, I AM. We wait for the consummation of the world and the coming again of Christ the Just Judge!

And here you thought you were waiting for Santa Claus and your favorite Christmas ham! NO! Absolutely not…

Listen again to Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.” He will judge with justice and “decide aright” for the poor. He will strike down the ruthless and slay the wicked. His coming will subvert the natural order of creation: wolf and lamb, leopard and sheep, lion and calf—all will “browse together” as guests at his table. The Child will lead the bear and cow to friendship and the lion will eat hay like the ox. His coming will be a sign for all the nations, and “the Gentiles shall seek [him] out, for his dwelling shall be glorious!” Paul, our witness, teaches us, “…that Christ became the minister of [the Jews] to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises of the patriarchs, so that the Gentiles [the rest of us] might glorify God for his mercy.” We are not waiting on egg nog, ugly sweaters, gift cards to Cracker Barrel, battery-operated dolls with glam outfits, new cars, fake furs, or Britney Spears’ last CD. Our gospel acclamation says it all: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths: all flesh shall see the salvation of God!”

It is too quick and easy to say that Advent is a season of preparation. For us, the ones who wait for the Thief to come at any moment, for us, being prepared is a way of life, right? I mean, sitting on edge, vibrating with adrenaline fueled tension, just waiting to spring into holiness, to snap into charitable action the second the heavenly trumpet blares and the first cumulus nimbus parts! Being ready is what we do. Trumpet. Cloud. Jesus. BAM! We on it and set to go. But, ummmm, just one small question: who are we waiting on again? We’ve heard King and Judge, Child and Lamb, Servant and Master, Emmanuel and I AM. By the way, what or who does an “I AM” looks like? Anyway, so we are sitting here, standing here, praying here, praising here, just being here, waiting in joyful hope for the coming of the Lord, but are we sure what it means “to make straight the path of the Lord”? And, for that matter, are we real clear on what “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” means?

Naw, I don’t think so. John the Baptist understood his mission perfectly. Leaping in his mother’s womb when a pregnant Mary visited his mom, John knew instantly what his prophetic responsibility would be: to announce the coming of the Lord to all flesh, all nations. And so, John preached in the deserts of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” When confronted by Pharisees and Sadducees—latecomers to the Lord’s party trying to get baptized —John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Ahhhhh ha! John the Baptist and his prophetic mission is exactly what Advent is all about. Not wreaths and violet vestments and hanging out ‘til Santa brings me my stuff. Advent is about getting ready for the return of our Lord and the end of everything as we know it. Thus, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths…” Are you situated right now, settled right now and ready for Lord of your redemption to return? Or, are you wiggling around with the vipers, coming lately to the feast and hoping to sneak in the back door?

Our basic Advent question is: can you produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance? Let’s hope so. John warns, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.” Is this meant to scare us? Frighten us like children into a last-second fit of self-flagellation and groveling for mercy? The picture John paints for us isn’t all that comforting. John says that though he himself baptizes you with water “for repentance,” the Lord, “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Wheat goes in the barn. Chaff goes in the fire. Who it is we are waiting on? We’re not waiting on Jesus the Social Worker. Jesus the Hippie Priest. Jesus the Babydoll of God. We’re not waiting on a pacified, commercialized, suburbanized, plastic Messiah. Our Blessed Mother did not give birth to a Group Facilitator or a Dialog Specialist or a Conflict Mediator. Our Father did not preserve the Virgin Mary from all stain of Original Sin so that she might bring into this world some guy to teach us to be nice to one another, to show us how to just get along. As much as we would love to believe that Christ will return and pat us on the head for our C- efforts, his Coming Again is about one thing and one thing only: the consummation of human history, the end of everything as we know it. So, let’s ask that Advent question one more time: can you produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance?

Truly, we must resist the temptation to domesticate our Lord. To whittle him down to a toy or sugarcoat him into a holiday candy. We are not playing a game. We are not feeling the warm-fuzzy of rum nog. The Good News of Advent is that he is coming again. This is the Good News of Christmas, the New Year, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time, and every solemnity we celebrate in between and among the feast days of the saints. Our need to repent, to turn from sin and to love as God loves, is a daily, hourly need, a nothing-special-about-this-season need. If you are ready, stay ready. If you are not ready, get ready. Why? Because if you have ears to hear, listen: there is a voice crying out in the desert, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Shameless Christmas Begging

Maybe I should put a pipe on my Christmas Wish List!

Even though I am the Poster Friar for Religious Introverts, no one has ever accused me of being shy. . .or subtle.

But I have an incredibly busy weekend ahead of me--three homily preps, six Masses, grading grad student papers, writing an exam for seniors and grads, reading Sir Gawain and preparing the Lit Trad final exam, usual priory stuff, and a load or two of laundry.

So. . .I'm just gonna ahead and embarrass my Mama and my Prior and rename the Amazon.com Wish Lists:

Fr. Philip's Christmas Phil & Theo (the usual philosophy and theology books) Lots of activity on this list lately. . .THANKS!!!

Fr. Philip's Christmas Poem & CD's
(poetry books, poetry CD's, and some music) Someone recently bought me Janis Joplin's essential hits. . .my heart is racing!!!

The Novices have an important pending request. When and if their request gets approval, I will direct my mendicant efforts to that project. For now, click, shop, and send with wild Christmas abandon!

:-) Fr. Philip

07 December 2007

Mary: deathless Mother, Church

Immaculate Conception: Gen 3.9-15, 20; Eph 1.3-6, 11-12; Luke 1.26-38
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas (Vigil)

I have heard the dogma of the Blessed Mother’s immaculate conception called everything from “unnecessary political propaganda” to “anti-womanist tripe” to “Mary’s crowning as the fourth Person of the Blessed Trinity.” Our Marian dogmas tend to draw out this sort of hyperbolic distortion. Mary is a Catholic goddess. Catholics believe that Mary is equal to Christ as our Redeemer. Since Mary is the Mother of God, it is her flesh and blood we consume at the Mass. No doubt some of these distortions are the products of overeager amateur theologians. Some are intentional misrepresentations made for scoring anti-Catholic political points. Others are half-heard, mis-heard, re-heard rumors of rumors and poorly memorized fifth grade catechesis poorly remembered under duress!

We are here this evening to celebrate one of those oft-misheard, misunderstood Marian dogmas: the Immaculate Conception. On this day in 1854, Pope Pius IX issued an encyclical titled, Ineffabilis Deus (“Ineffable God”). In this letter our Holy Father teaches: We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” Let’s look at what this statement says and then look at what it means. Here’s what we need to notice:

1). The phrasing “we declare, pronounce, and define that…” establishes Ineffabilis Deus as an infallible papal pronouncement. Not the first nor the last. Please note that papal infallibility wasn’t officially defined (i.e. “limited”) until 1870 at the First Vatican Council some sixteen years later.

2). The Holy Father is pronouncing infallibly on an existing doctrine. In other words, Pope Pius IX did not “invent” the Immaculate Conception. Our modern solemnity developed rather circuitously over the centuries from the second century oriental feast of The Conception of St John the Baptist. This feast and the feast of The Conception of St. Anne, Mary’s mother, carried the tradition in the East until we find in the eleventh century liturgical books the Feast of the Conception of Virgin Mary. The first Feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated by Pope Sixtus IV in 1476.

3). Mary’s immaculate conception in her mother’s womb was achieved “by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God…” This was a unique gift to Mary, an individual dispensation.

4). Mary’s preservation from O.S. was made possible by “the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race…” Mary did not save herself or preserve herself from original sin. Like the rest of humanity, our Mother, very much a woman, was “saved” by Christ.

5). Pius IX defines “immaculate” as “preserved free from all stain of original sin…” In other words, Mary was spared the effects of the Fall and was thus perfect in her humanity while living among us, remaining sinless her entire life, leading to her bodily assumption into heaven.

6). As already noted, the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception has always been believed by the Church. Pius IX’s 1854 declaration simply elevates the doctrine to the rank of dogma, teaching us that Mary’s sinless state at the instant of her conception “is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” Faithful assent to the dogma is not optional for Roman Catholics; it is definitive of the faith, i.e. de fide.

That’s what the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception says. What does it mean? Think about what Mary the virgin girl was asked to do by the angel Gabriel. She was asked to assent to conceiving, carrying, and giving birth to the Word of God, His only Son, the Christ. Gabriel greets Mary with, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!” Rightly so, Mary is scared nearly speechless by this and “ponders what sort of greeting this might be.” Gabriel, seeing her distress, says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Mary assents to the angel’s request to be the Mother of the Word among us, saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Quite apart from the utility of explaining how the Son of God becomes the Son of Man w/o Original Sin attaching to his incarnation, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception prefigures for us the conception of the Church.

Follow me here:

Mary gives Christ his body from hers. The Church is the Body of Christ, making Mary our Mother.

Mary gives birth to the Word of God. The Church is the Word of God preached to all the world.

Mary is deathless Mother, who has been raised bodily to heaven. The Church is deathless Mother, who will be raised bodily on the Last Day.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are given the dogma of the I.C. as more than a theological explanation, as more than a mere definition of doctrine. The I.C. is for us a way, a means of knowing our Father and the strength of His fidelity to His promises. Paul teaches us that God chose the Church, as he chose Mary “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.” Immaculate. Like Mary, “we were also chosen…so that we might exist for the praise of His glory…” Mary is the exemplary church, the ideal body of believers assenting to the will of God; conceiving, carrying, giving birth to the Word daily, hourly before the world, for the world. And for this purpose, Mary and the Church were themselves conceived, carried, and birthed without the stain, the burden of sin.

For each of us and for all of us, this feast is a singular grace, a gifted moment where we glimpse not in passing but in perpetuity the overwhelming power of our Father to accomplish through Christ the promises He made to our ancestors long ago: a virgin will conceive a son and he will be called “Emmanuel,” God-with-us, Jesus the Christ!

Sheep with sharp teeth

St Ambrose: Eph 3.8-12 and John 10.11-16
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass

Paul, writing to the Ephesians, tells us that “as the very least of the holy ones” he has been given the grace: 1) “to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ;” 2) “to bring to light for all what is the mystery hidden…in God…;” and 3) to complete these two tasks “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.” On a recent episode of America’s Got Talent, I heard one of the judges say to an ambitious twelve-year old singer who announced her intention to sing a Whitney Houston ballad, “That’s a mighty Big Song, little mama!” Compare Paul’s graces to Christ’s nature: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep […] there will be one flock, one shepherd.” The stark simplicity of Christ’s job description set beside Paul’s self-understanding is startling.

What is Christ giving to the Church when he serves as our Shepherd? Let’s start the answer with another question: can anyone doubt that the last five years have been extraordinarily difficult for the Roman Catholic Church? Clerical sexual abuse of minors; clerical and lay financial malfeasance; an archbishop marrying a Moonie; this craze of Catholic women “ordaining” themselves “priests” on riverboats and in Jewish synagogues; the bishops’ conference endorsing two blockbuster movies that directly attack basic Christian virtues; pro-abortion politicians and outlandish drag queens taking communion; and on and on. Catholic scandal these days is somewhat like taking a drink from full-on fire hose…one try at a sip and you’re drenched! We hear one question repeated more often than any other: where are the bishops while these scandals play out? Why won’t they “do something”?

Another way to ask that same question: what is Christ giving to the Church when he serves as our Shepherd? Paul sees his graced ministry as a Christian leader in somewhat esoteric terms: revealing the hidden mystery of God’s manifold wisdom through the Church. OK. Reading his letters we can see how he goes about doing this. Using his training in Greek philosophy and Roman rhetoric, Paul enthusiastically constructs a viable religious and spiritual practice out of his own encounter with Christ and what he has heard from other witnesses, preaching with enormous success do the Gentiles. Jesus, on the other hand, well beyond Greek philosophy and Roman rhetoric, uses a simple, near-universal image to evoke Christian leadership: the shepherd with his flock. Vigilant against predators. Eager to rescue lost sheep. Willing to endure hardship to get the job done. Willing even to die for his sheep. To lead us, Christ our shepherd was willing to die for us. To show us the way, to reveal the manifold wisdom of his Father, Christ was freely accepting of death. To preach the inscrutable riches of his Father’s mercy, Christ gave his life for us on the cross.

We know that the wolves of scandal and dissension slobber at the chance to pick off the Lord’s sheep one at a time. There’s security in numbers. Safety in the crowd of fellow-sheep. Comfort in looking out over the flock and seeing uniformity and compliance. But security, safety, and comfort are not the fruits of baptism, or of a life lived in Christ. Nothing we do here today and nothing we do as Catholics in a lifetime promises us a scandal-free, trouble-free life of lazy, spiritual grazing in verdant ecclesial meadows. Emerging from the waters of baptism we are set upon by a world in conflict with the Body of Christ and with itself. Jesus knew this. Paul knew this. And so, we are given as a grace in preaching “boldness of speech.” And as a grace in prayer “confidence of access” to the Father through our Shepherd.

Put that boldness of speech and confidence of access together, my fellow sheep, and let’s ask one another, “Why don’t we do something about the slobbering wolves of scandal and dissension?!” What did Christ leave his sheep? The truth of the faith, the communion of saints, the authority of his Body, and nice, sharp set of Wolf-biting teeth!

06 December 2007

"Messing with the Mass..."

Here's an excellent article on priestly narcissism from Homiletic and Pastoral Review (Nov 2007).


It is important for priests to keep in mind that most Catholics go to Mass to encounter Jesus Christ, and not to come into contact with the particular psychology of the celebrant. Furthermore, they go for something that is not present in the popular culture — a sense of the sacred (and a recognition of the need for humility). We don’t want to come away from the mass being affirmed in where we are, we want to be drawn toward where we long to be — closer to Christ and to Heaven.

Given the tendency toward “ego renewal”, self-esteem and self-aggrandizement, priests and seminarians should be made aware of the danger of inserting one’s personality into the liturgy. This tendency toward narcissism needs to be addressed specifically in the context of the mass celebrated versus populum (facing the people). Regardless of where one stands with regard to the respective merits of the mass being celebrated ad orientem (with the people) or versus populum, there can be little question that the temptation to grandstand is greater when the celebrant is facing the congregation. Cardinal Arinze, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, recently commented on this issue, saying, “If the priest is not very disciplined, he will soon become a performer. He may not realize it, but he will be projecting himself rather than projecting Christ. Indeed, it is very demanding, the altar facing the people.

EXCELLENT article!!!

05 December 2007

Music List...

NO! I haven't forgotten about my poetry reading or writing. . .with all that's been going on--Rome plans, classes, sinus infection, ad. nau.--I've been a bit distracted.

Not only have I updated the POETRY wishes, I've added MUSIC wishes as well!

Sad but true story: I had about 300 classical/alternative/world music CD's before I joined the Order. Two days before I got on a plane to fly to the novitiate, I gave all but about ten of them away. I gave away a lot of stuff, including books (YIKES!).

Sooooo, Music: less important globally than philosophy books for my immediate future, yes. However, somewhat important for my Local sanity and artistic growth.

God bless, Fr. Philip, OP