03 March 2007

WAKE UP! and Be Quiet

2nd Sunday of Lent: Gen 15.5-12, 17-18; Phil 3.17-4.1; Luke 9.28-36
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Women’s Retreat for U.D. Seniors (Vigil Mass)


Sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Listen. Hear that? That thumping silence? The quiet of being attentive to nothing at all? That vacuum, that bare blare of Empty is the sound of God in the desert with you, His spirited breath, held for a moment, waiting for you to be quiet, to be still and settled, to be fixed on every possibility that His Word might create. Ssssshhhhhhhhhhhh! Would you clamor and clang and squeal and miss what He has to say to you? Are you fully awake?

If you are to be transfigured by your time in the desert, you must be fully awake and quiet. And not just “without noise” but also without hurrying, without pressured racing and competition, without distracted calculation and cautious deliberation. You must be Without. Entirely empty of envy, pride, desire for applause, desire for honors, desire for power; entirely emptied of self-pity, self-hatred, self-congratulation; emptied of self-righteous assurance, contagious despairing, and you must be emptied of our culture’s soul crippling scripts for women, those vacuous dramas of prince charmings, princess brides, the abused but dutiful wife, the mother eaten alive by maternal myths of all-consuming sacrifice. If you are to be transfigured by your time in the desert, you must be fully awake and quiet.

Full awake and quiet. Ssssshhhhhhh! The cloud speaks: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus was then alone and the disciples fell silent and did not tell anyone about what they had seen. And their silence about this miracle doomed the church. Their selfish silence thwarted the spread of the gospel; it destroyed any chance the apostles would have of casting the seeds of the Good News onto fertile, Gentile soil. Right? The Way died when Peter, John, and James sealed their lips in conspiracy and refused to talk about the Christ in his dazzling whites. NO! They were silent in the face of being told directly by the Father Himself that Jesus is His Son. Somehow, silence seems like the appropriate response to that revelation! They talked later. And often. And all over the Gentile world. And until they died as martyrs they spoke of the Chosen Son and the power of his fiery Spirit and the necessity of turning from rebellion and disobedience and turning to love and mercy. And because of their awed silence and then their obedient preaching, we can say with them: “Master! It is good that we are here!”

If you are to be transfigured by your time in the desert, you must be fully awake and quiet. Thomas Merton writes, “The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else […] The desert therefore is the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself—that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his Creator”(TS, 5). To be asleep, spiritually, is live in a dreamland where you are liberated from all social constraints, all social commitments, all familial ties; to live in a dreamland where you are in control, where you define your truth and your limits, and where you pick and choose how you will moved by those around you. To be asleep spiritually to be foolish about speaking to God as an equal, treating Him like Santa Claus, trying to capture Him with small things like words or pictures or music or science. You are sleeping if you dream that God loves the Good Girl more. That He races to the rescue of the most pious first. That He treasures as indicators of your humility and obedience your obsessiveness, your self-doubt, your dark self-image. What project stands between you and God? What layers of sticky illusion cling to your waking and keep you stupored?

WAKE UP! Sssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Listen: stand firm in the Lord. He will bring all things into subjection under him, including you and me. We will all be transfigured. Even now: we are changing. One step in front of the other. Over the sand. Over the dunes. Into the desert of Lent to be tempted. To know your weak spot, the weakness that will call the Devil to the fight that will clean your heart for sacrifice. Stand firm. And walk. And walk and walk and walk to the Cross. Knowing that he waits there. Waits for you, for us, for the nails and our healing.

‘Til then, imitate the stars: shine, wait, and be as still as light.

02 March 2007

Stoking the fires of Gehenna

2nd Friday of Lent: Ez 18.21-28 and Matt 5.20-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club and Church of the Incarnation


The third century martyr, Cyprian, said it best: God does not receive the sacrifice of a person who is in disagreement, but commands him to go back from the altar and first be reconciled to his brother, that so God also may be appeased by the prayers of a peace-maker. Our peace and brotherly agreement is the greater sacrifice to God…” The sacrifice of the Mass is a sacrifice that makes our peace with God. If that sacrifice is spoiled, in some way tainted or injured, then we are not offering to God our first fruits, our best. And what, exactly, are we offering anyway? Finest wheat? Spring lamb? No. We are offering to God what God Himself has said he truly wants as sacrifice: a contrite heart! A heart burned clean of resentment, vengeance, nursed hurt, anger, pettiness, willful disobedience, murder, self-righteousness, judgment, any sort of rank wickedness. The pure victim of this sacrifice of the altar is your heart laid bare to God, open and free, without the blemish of a foul motive, and cleaned from any contention or disagreement. The fires of Gehenna are stoked with the wooden hearts of those who will to not turn from their childishly nursed hurts and petty resentments. How sad to burn for a lack of a will to love.

Add your broken heart to Christ’s sacrifice! Add your doubtful heart, your mournful heart, your anxious heart…add your joyful, thankful, peaceful heart to the sacrifice and add them for the good of others. But keep your unrepentant heart until you find the will to crack it open and do what is necessary to be reconciled to your brothers and sister in Christ. Jesus cannot be clearer: “…if you bring your gift to the altar, and there you recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Odd, isn’t? Notice that Jesus says, “if you recall that your brother has anything against you…” He didn’t say, “if you recall that you have anything against your brother…” The burden of a faithful man or woman in Christ is to be first in seeking out reconciliation not just waiting for reconciliation to just show up. Jesus is laying on us a righteous obligation beyond being merely open to reconciliation; he is telling us to search for those with whom we have malfunctioning friendships and make them right.

Are you having trouble finding the Good News in any of this? I hope not! First rule of the Christian life: Jesus will not require of us anything that he is unwilling to give us the grace to complete. The Good News of today’s gospel is that in the Holy Spirit, carried above the death-dealing sins of hatred and anger, we are gifted with the fiery graces of Christ’s love to burn our hearts clean, wash away the ash, clear the air of smoke, and to see with crystalline clarity all the bonds we must mend in order to offer to God those same hearts as acceptable victims for the altar. There is nothing we must do that we can do without Christ. He is our advocate and guide, our servant and Lord!

If you are impeded in your task of heart-washing, let the Psalm remind you: “If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?” If our Lord kept notes on our sins, if He added them up like columns of debits, which of us would long stand under the accumulating bill? We are weak alone. We are strong together. We are invincible with Christ. No, we are more than invincible! We are victors already. Put that victory against iniquity to work: seek out those with whom you have an “against” relationship. Be reconciled. And come back to this altar with your contrite heart, stand open and free before Christ, ready for the sacrifice that will change who you are into Who He Is.

May your righteousness surpass the angels and the saints.

26 February 2007

Righteous Verbs for Jesus

1st Week of Lent (M): Lev 19.1-2, 11-18 and Matthew 25.31-46
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


First, “be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Being holy has something to do with being just; that is, to be like God—holy—one must also be righteous: in right-relationship with God, neighbor, and self. Being a just person and acting justly means to be and act out of your lived, daily “bumping into” God. What God tells Moses to tell us about righteousness is starkly simple: love your God and your neighbor as you love yourself. And He repeats: “I am the Lord.” Here is a seal on the instruction, a stamp of authority and authentication so that we know that this is an original promise of friendship, the real-deal telling of how our Father’s creation is ordered and how we are to fit into it so that we will prosper in His wisdom. If you will be holy, you will be just. If you will be just, you will love: love God and love neighbor as you love yourself. As you walk among the rocks and bones of Lent, ask yourself: how do I love myself? Is this how I am to love God and neighbor? Pray then: Make me holy as you are holy, Lord!

Second, “your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” What our Father teaches us about the order of His creation and our right-relationship with Him and what He has made is Life; that is, what we call “life” is an ordered creation—not an accident, not the byproducts of a random confluence of fortuitous events. We are made, crafted and set among the beauty of God’s handiwork. His Word—Wisdom, Christ, pure, refreshing—from nothing, from no-thing-at-all made Everything there is: arrayed, synched, choreographed, scored and meticulously performed. His creation is decreed, precepted, commanded, ordinanced, and enduring; perfect for the animating fire of the Spirit. And that Spirit, pure and refreshing, brings us wisdom, rejoicing, enlightenment, justice, truth. Ask yourself: how do I understand myself as someone made, someone crafted for a purpose? How do I understand myself as a body-soul fashioned by Love Himself to love as He does? Pray then: Lord, let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find peace in your order, a home with your Spirit and Life.

Finally, “sheep to my right, goats to my left.” My poet’s mind is reeling from all these nouns—Justice, Holiness, Spirit, Life, Truth—and I’m starting to wonder if perhaps God is really a nineteenth-century German philosopher! Order, Law, Decrees! No, not a German philosopher but a Jewish carpenter and so the words of Life are verbs: give, welcome, clothe, comfort, visit, feed, heal, teach, love. These verbs enact the nouns of creation, giving the stone-names their souls! We do not welcome the stranger just to welcome the stranger. We do not feed the hungry just to feed the hungry. We welcome and feed and visit and teach b/c when we do these for the least of God’s creatures—the poor—, we do them for Christ. To do anything else is to definitively exclude yourself from communion with God and the blessed forever (CCC n. 1033). To do anything else is to place yourself outside the order, the very nature of God’s creation. And you are saying: I hate myself. And God. And everyone else. That is no life at all. No spirit at all. It is Death, freely chosen, and darkness forever. Ask yourself: what are my “righteous verbs”? What am I doing this Lent to act on my Father’s command to love and to be just and to be holy as He is holy? Pray then: “Lord, I want to be among the truly righteous, show me the hungry, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned and give me your Spirit to be for them your Living Word, to serve them as you did.”


25 February 2007

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