19 January 2007

The Work is Bigger...

2nd Week OT (F): Hebrews 8.6-13 and Mark 3.13-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club, Church of the Incarnation


Jesus summons those whom he wants and they come to him. So simple. Jesus calls; we answer. He asks; we reply. He orders; we obey. We have from him direction, purpose, limits, and identity. We have from him a mission, a ministry, authority, and truth. His Spirit is among us, together with us, here now to hold us up, to bring us to fruition and harvest and to see us work at his work—imperfectly, incompletely, yes!—but to see us work at his work together despite our shortfalls, despite our mistakes, and despite our sometimes Belly-Button views of the world. You correct my errors. They pick up our slack. We get done what she can’t. She manages what he refuses to do. And I handle the stuff no one else will. And all of us together get it done; we complete the work Jesus has given us to do. None of us alone can do what Christ has asked all of us to do together.

Jesus knew this, so he called twelve of his disciples and appointed them apostles. He turned students into teachers with a call and gave them the authority—the legitimacy, the power, the clout—they needed to get out there and preach, to get out there and bring not just a word of healing but actual healing, not just a word of reconciliation with God but actual reconciliation. They were not empowered to deliver a message about Christ; they were empowered to deliver Christ himself. We hear their names listed so that we know that twelve men were called, twelve actual persons were summoned to the mountain. Not mythic figures. Not heroes from misty history. Not personified virtues or angels. But men. Meat and bone men with fathers and mothers and siblings and nationalities and careers. Men with stories, with pasts and with present problems. Jesus wanted these twelve to walk his Word around the world. And they did. Together.

The reading from Hebrews this morning makes it perfectly clear that the new covenant, though a declaration of the obsolesce of the old covenant, is still a covenant with a people not a person, with a nation not a citizen: “I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” One God, many people. One God, many priests, many prophets, many kings. All those priests, prophets and kings—all of us!—will accomplish the Lord’s work in the world working together. One Body in Christ. Christ’s most excellent ministry, as mediator for us before the Father, is a ministry to us as his body and for us as his brothers and sisters. He mediates a better covenant with better promises but still a covenant with the nation, the race, the Church.

The work we have been given to do here—the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life—is precisely the work Christ accomplished in calling the apostles. Christ summons those whom he wants. We help those summoned come to him. This is not work for one man, one woman, one priest. It is not even work for a small group of talented men and women. What WE take on here is the work of the Spirit in drawing out the vocation, the call, and strengthening the hearts of those called to climb that mountain to Christ for their mission. This work of ours is bigger than me. It’s bigger than the UD Serra Club. It’s bigger than any one bishop or any single pope. This work of strengthening the called to answer Yes to God is the work of the Church—all the priests, prophets, and kings; all the baptized and all those with open eyes and open ears. None of us alone can do what Christ has asked all of us to do together.

Whatever it is that distracts you from your holy work, put it on this altar. Sacrifice it. Give it up to God. And get back to work!

18 January 2007

Would you shout for Jesus?

2nd Week OT: Hebrews 7.25-8.6 and Mark 3.7-12
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas


Would you be one of those pressing Jesus on the lakeshore? Would you be one of those clamoring to touch him, to have him glance at you, speak to you? Could you throw yourself into the mob and ride the rushing bodies to Christ? I think most of us would say that we wouldn’t be part of an adoring herd chasing Jesus all over creation. We wouldn’t toss our dignity and decorum into the wind so easily and become squealing groupies! But then again, we have 21st century medical science—surgeries, MRI’s, CAT scans, medicines, bone replacements, organ transplants—we have the advances of technology and social psychology to comfort our herd-fears, our pack anxieties. However, we still fear death. We still grow unsteady and weak in the face of debilitating disease and injury. The human need for care and healing is as fundamental to our nature as speech or touch or passion—perhaps this need, this desire for wholeness and health is basic enough, powerful enough to rush Christ and risk crushing him; desperate for comfort or cure, we find that dignity and decorum are luxuries for the healthy, the well-cared-for and that leaping and pushing and crying aloud are the necessities for the diseased and the neglected.

What do the diseased and neglected recognize in Jesus? They see what the unclean spirits see: the Son of God come among them. Inhabiting the ill and malformed bodies of the sick, the unclean spirits know who Jesus is and announce his coming. But the time is not right and the Christ cannot be heralded by demons, so Jesus warns them to silence about his identity. Regardless, they recognize that he is the wholeness and health that comes to destroy their broken and ailing lives. That he has done this repeatedly during his ministry only lends credibility to their demonic fear and it should lend strength to our faith, our trust in God’s promise of Final Healing.

Who can bring about this Final Healing other than the one High Priest, Jesus Christ? Who can intercede for us more faithfully before the throne? Who can offer a more efficacious sacrifice for our sins than Christ Jesus? No one. Hebrews reads, “He has no need to offer sacrifice day after day[…]he did that once for all when he offered himself.” We have a high priest who is at once Priest and sacrifice, priest and altar. He is the one who sacrifices and the one sacrificed—“a death he freely accepted.” He is the mediator of a better covenant put into practice with better promises. And knowing this, yes, we would chase him to the lake’s edge and jump for his attention.

We were not made for death but life and the fear of death is the best sign we have that life, abundant life, is our greediest desire, our most aching want. And at the same time we know that disease and injury and anxiety mark us as mortal, temporary—for now—temporary creatures of frail stature and limited ability. Leaping and shouting for Christ is what any us would do when faced with the chaos of illness or the devastation of injury. We would cry to our High Priest for mercy, for help and healing. And why not? Christ is always able to save those who approach the Father through him. He lives forever to make intercession for us. So, leap, shout, shove, press in, reach out, clamor away for the Lord, calling to him in your need, “You are the Son of God!”

17 January 2007

Bottomline Holiness

St Anthony, abbot: Ephesians 6.10-13, 18; Matthew 19.16-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


We’ve all heard the story about the bored student sitting in class, wanting nothing more than to get out in the sunshine and run. The teacher drones on and on and on and finally the bored student—in total exasperation—asks the bottom-line question that clears through all the distraction and clutter of learning. In Adultese the question is: Is this going to be on the test? Translated into Teenagerese the question is: I'd rather stick a hot poker in my eye and spend eternity screaming into the abyss than sit here for another second listening to you drone on about stupid stuff I don't need to know anyway so just tell me what's going to be on the test so I write it down and memorize it and please stop torturing me with what if's could be's maybe's and you really have to think about that's and just give me the facts so I can give them back to you on the stupid test and for pity's sake get to the point and let us go! Now, I don’t know about you, but I never said such a thing in class. I was and am a school geek. But we all know the sentiment: get to the point, tell us what we need to know, and move on.

The RYM in Matthew’s gospel is in a hurry. He asks Jesus, “What good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus answers with what seems like an annoying rhetorical question about who is good and then gives the guy his bottom-line answer. Jesus says, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The RYM asks the teenager question: “Which ones?” Whadda mean, “Which ones?!” Translated into Teenagerese this question is something like: Ok stop with the philosophical muttering and weird religious speculation and just give me the formula, the prayer, the sacrifice, or the whatever it is that gets me into heaven because I'm a bottomline kinda guy and your cryptic zen puzzles are annoying me and making me think and I just wanna know how not to go to hell so please Jesus tell me what's going to be on the Test at the End so I can spit it back up and get my eternal A+. Jesus, being a good teacher, tells him which of the commandments he must observe and the RYM says (in effect), “Been there, done those. What else?” Jesus, ever the one for surprise and difficult demands says, (in effect), “Sell all of your stuff, give the money to the poor, then come, follow me. This is just how you start on your perfection.”

Not a good answer for the RYM b/c, well, he’s rich and young after all. So he goes away sad. And then Jesus tells his disciples that it is hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Why? Probably b/c riches incline one to cling to them, making it difficult to follow Christ in a life of poverty. It’s not the having that’s the problem; it’s the clinging. Remember: you become what you worship. Cling to temporary things and you become a temporary thing. Easily bought and sold, easily lost. Cling to Christ and his work and you become Christ to do his work.

The temptation, of course, is the path of least resistance. Just tell me, Father, what I need to do! Bottom-line it for me, padre! The truth is: holiness is work, hard work and there are no shortcuts. I could tell you to throw on scapular or pray a novena or sing a litany to St. Jude and all of those would be fruitful. But none of them will substitute for following Christ in his work—healing, feeding, clothing, visiting those in need, those who need our help and want our company. There’s no magic spell to holiness, no Instant Win scratch-off card that guarantees you heaven. If you want to be perfect, unclench your heart, move your feet on Christ’s way, lift your hands in prayer, attach yourself to nothing temporary, rather, give yourself to eternity. And listen again to Jesus: “Give what you have to poor, come, follow me.”

14 January 2007

Water to wine, Life to living

2nd Sunday OT: Isa 62.1-5; 1 Cor 12.4-11; John 2.1-11
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX


To each of us is given a manifestation, an expression of the Spirit—given to each so that each might be of service to all. Different gifts, same Spirit. Different graces, same Spirit. Different workings for God’s glory, same Spirit in the work. The Spirit diffuses His gifts among us like a rich perfume carries through the air, touching one soul and moving to the next, settling into the life and work of this one, unsettling the comfort and security of that one; the Spirit shakes the firm, calms the anxious, bolsters the weak, tests the strong, brings peace to the violated and justice to unjust. Each of us and all of us are given a way to manifest the Spirit of the Lord; all of us and each of us is given a gift that expresses the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father, a gift that expresses their love to you, to us so that we can then show those we love, those we work with and play with and live with, so that we can show them that they too can, if they will, they too can be gifted by God, graced in the Spirit, and that they can make their lives a benefit to others for God’s greater glory.

Have you forgotten your gift? Maybe I should ask first: what is your gift? How has God graced you? How are you an expression of the Spirit’s wisdom? If you can’t answer this, allow St. Paul to help. Have you been given trust in the Lord? A faith in His promises and power? An ability to heal the sick, the anxious, the lost? Have you been given the will to do great works in His name? Wealth to fund charity? Health to spend your life telling those who have not hear the Good News the Good News? Can you see and hear the signs of the times, know where we have gone wrong, and teach us the Way of the Lamb? Do you have the courage—the strength of your redeemed heart—to stand up and say, “This is the Way!” Can you see and hear the movement of the Spirit? Can you distinguish between what the Lord has calls us to do and the Devil tempts us to do? Are you graced with the ability to discern that which will kill our souls and that which will nourish us? Can you speak to us so that we understand, witness to us so that the wisdom of the Spirit makes sense to us, is useful to us, and gives us what we need to be better children of the Father? Who are you in Christ? What do you know that we need to know? What can you do that the rest of us can’t? Your gift from God is your gift to us.

Think! What is your gift? How has God graced you? How are you an expression of the Spirit’s wisdom? Have you forgotten your gift? Do you ignore or reject what God has given you to share? How can we proclaim the marvelous deeds of God; praise Him for His abundance; rejoice in His treasure if you hide, if you shrink from your inheritance? Think! What do you need from us? What gifts do we have, what graces have we received that you need? You see, none of this—this biblical journey, this history of healing in Christ, this struggle towards holiness—none of this makes any sense at all if we don’t do it together, if we don’t do it for another. One faith, one baptism, one Lord. But countless gifts! Infinite graces. Like stars in a desert sky. Like drops of wine at a wedding.

Mary says to Jesus at Cana, “They have no wine.” They do not have what they need to celebrate God’s blessing at this wedding. They do not have what they need to make this religious ritual into a righteous party! Jesus answers to his mother, “My hour has not yet come.” It is not yet time for me to reveal myself as the one sent to unlock the treasury of God’s grace. It is not yet time for me to preach the Good News, to teach the truth of the Way. You can almost see Mary pausing to consider this, waiting for just a moment before she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus decides that this IS the hour to reveal his ministry and mission and he tells the servants to bring him six jars of water. The water becomes wine. That which gives us life becomes that which makes life a celebration. That which brings us into the Body of Christ at baptism becomes that which will feed us as his blood after he leaves us.

Jesus reveals his glory in this miracle and in so doing reveals the beginning and the end of his public ministry. He graces the wedding guests with the gift of fine wine as he graces us with the gift of his saving blood. We are washed clean and welcomed in with water. And we are kept clean by his blood and well-fed with the food of his heavenly banquet. The disciples begin to believe not b/c Jesus has shown them some magic trick, some sort of Houdini illusion that wows the great unwashed. They begin to believe him b/c they see what he intended them to see: his Father’s generosity, his Father’s abundance, and the wisdom of the Spirit that reveals to them the course of their calling—to follow Christ, to teach and preach what he teaches and preaches, to follow him to the cross and their deaths as faithful witnesses to his gospel. Magic tricks cannot move us to martyrdom. Illusions cannot feed us through trial and suffering. The disciples believed and we believe b/c Jesus revealed his glory—showed them and us the majesty and power and bright-mercy of his Father. His gift to them and to us is eternal life and every gift we need between now and his coming again, every gift we need to perfect—to sharpen, hone, to polish—those graces the Spirit blesses us with right now.

Have you forgotten your gift? What is the Spirit’s grace for you? What lies or stands or crawls between you and your inheritance? Do you will not to hear the Good News? Do you refuse his love out of fear, hatred, panic, desperation? Willful ignorance is disobedience—simply saying NO to the Word, refusing to listen. If you will not be the Spirit’s tool, God’s instrument of mercy and love, then what will you be? Will you serve Self and worship the mirror? Will you feed hatred and bile and grow bloated on vengeance and anger? You become the idols you worship. Blind, deaf, mute, lame, leprous, gushing blood, demon possessed, dead…forever.

With Christ, we are no longer called Forsaken or Desolate. We are no longer counted among the lost, those shadows of souls that haunt the graves of their lives. We are no longer without names, without crowns, without a nation or tribe. We are Children of the Most High, crowned a royal priesthood for the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; and we are nation of gifted prophets, graced apostles and witnesses to the transforming power of the Body and Blood of Christ. His gift to you is eternal life. Your life now belongs to Christ. Live it as Jesus lived his among us; live it as a daily offering, a hourly oblation to God. We are espoused to the Bridegroom and our God rejoices in us. Let Him turn Mere Living into a jubilant celebration. You are His Delight! Delight Him in return by being His gift to others. Announce his saving works among all peoples and proclaim his marvelous deeds!