12 May 2007

Right Man, Right Time: B16 in Brazil!

Excerpt from the Holy Father's message to the bishops of Brazil:

(emphasis mine)

"We Bishops have come together to manifest this central truth, since we are directly bound to Christ, the Good Shepherd. The mission entrusted to us as teachers of the faith consists in recalling, in the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, that our Saviour 'desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim 2:4). This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church: the salvation of individual souls. For this reason the Father sent his Son, and in the Lord’s own words transmitted to us in the Gospel of Saint John, 'as the Father has sent me, even so I send you' (Jn 20:21). Hence the mandate to preach the Gospel: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age' (Mt 28:19-20). These words are simple yet sublime; they speak of our duty to proclaim the truth of the faith, the urgent need for the sacramental life, and the promise of Christ’s continual assistance to his Church. These are fundamental realities: they speak of instructing people in the faith and in Christian morality, and of celebrating the sacraments. Wherever God and his will are unknown, wherever faith in Jesus Christ and in his sacramental presence is lacking, the essential element for the solution of pressing social and political problems is also missing. Fidelity to the primacy of God and of his will, known and lived in communion with Jesus Christ, is the essential gift that we Bishops and priests must offer to our people (cf. Populorum Progressio, 21).... (H/T: Rocco at Whispers)

Exactly, exactly, exactly! Not programs or mission statements or strategies or policies BUT fidelity to God's will and the preaching of the gospel! Exactly!

Fr. Philip, OP

P.S. I wonder if my provincial would let me change my religious name to "Benedict"???

11 May 2007

Ordered to Love, made to serve

5th Week of Easter (F): Acts 15.22-31 and John 15.12-17
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation


How are we freed in Christ? And how do we remain free? Another way to ask these questions: how does Love free us from sin so that we might progress in holiness? We are set free and then we progress in freedom. Chosen, freed, appointed to bear fruit, and ridiculously, abundantly gifted—we are loosed in the world to change the world!

How? First, Jesus says to his disciples: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” We accept our freedom as a gift from Christ. We do not pursue it or ask for it or earn it. He offers; we accept. He chooses us; we step up. Second, Jesus continues: “…[I chose you] and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” Once chosen, once freed, we are appointed, selected out and given a mandate to finish, a task to complete; we are “installed” and empowered to bear fruit, to produce here and now—on Earth—all that we are promised by God there and then—in Heaven. The fruit we bear “remains” because it is a foretaste of the fruit of heaven, enduring to the end. Third, Jesus continues, “[I chose you, appointed you to bear fruit] so that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you.” Chosen, appointed to bear enduring fruit, and now: the Whatever You Need of Heaven is opened, the Anything of the Father’s Abundance is released! And because we are doing His work, having been appointed by His Christ, chosen to succeed as his friends, we enjoy infinite progress in holiness, straight to the throne, straight to the Face of Beauty Himself.

Now, here’s the kicker: once chosen, appointed to bear fruit, and given the keys to the heavenly pantry, we are commanded to love. Commanded. We are no longer slaves, Jesus says, but friends. We no longer travel with Christ in the bondage of ignorance, but revel with him in the knowledge of the Father’s will for us. Because there is no greater sacrifice, no greater commitment to holiness than to die for a friend, we are ordered to charity, commanded to love. So, when, in obedience to his commandment to love, we love, we are freed from the slavery of sin.

To be free, we must obey and not merely consent. And so Jesus commands that we love rather than requests that we love. Trust lies in listening and doing even in the face of doubt and fear—perhaps especially in the face of doubt and fear! Filled with the love of the Father and armed with our mandate to bear enduring fruit and ladened with the generous gifts of heaven, there’s no room in the souls of the friends of Christ for fear or mocking doubt or stingy charity. Our freedom and our progress in holiness are anything but private and personal. We are freed to serve. And we abuse our freedom when we serve no one but ourselves.

In his most recent letter to the Church, Sacramentum caritatis, our Holy Father, Benedict, teaches this truly astonishing notion: “The substantial conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, […] which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all”(11). Your aim in this Eucharist must focus well beyond your personal devotion. Well beyond the forgiveness of your sins. Well beyond the memorial of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Your aim here is nothing less than an active participation in the transubstantiation of all creation! A radical conversion of this world into a hymn of praise, a work of mercy, a sacrifice worthy of the Cross, a Way and a Truth that brings us all to Love—the Divine Passion that converts us to Christ.

Your personal conversion is good. But your conversion taken into the world as service and made manifest as Love is better. And that Love converting the world is best.

10 May 2007

Writing WOW! in the margins of SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS


10. In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection. At the same time, He reveals that He Himself is the true sacrificial lamb, destined in the Father's plan from the foundation of the world, as we read in The First Letter of Peter (cf. 1:18-20). By placing His gift in this context, Jesus shows the salvific meaning of His death and resurrection, a mystery which renews history and the whole cosmos. The institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus' death, for all its violence and absurdity, became in Him a supreme act of love and mankind's definitive deliverance from evil.

11. By His command to "do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:25), He asks us to respond to His gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, His expectation that the Church, born of His sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament. The remembrance of His perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into His "hour." "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving." (21) Jesus "draws us into Himself." (22) The substantial conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of "nuclear fission," to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).

23. Certainly the ordained minister also acts "in the name of the whole Church, when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the eucharistic sacrifice." (73) As a result, priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord's hands. This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.

36. The "subject" of the liturgy's intrinsic beauty is Christ Himself, risen and glorified in the Holy Spirit, who includes the Church in His work. (109) Here we can recall an evocative phrase of Saint Augustine which strikingly describes this dynamic of faith proper to the Eucharist. The great Bishop of Hippo, speaking specifically of the eucharistic mystery, stresses the fact that Christ assimilates us to Himself: "The bread you see on the altar, sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what the chalice contains, sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ. In these signs, Christ the Lord willed to entrust to us His body and the blood which He shed for the forgiveness of our sins. If you have received them properly, you yourselves are what you have received." (110) Consequently, "not only have we become Christians, we have become Christ himself." (111) We can thus contemplate God's mysterious work, which brings about a profound unity between ourselves and the Lord Jesus: "one should not believe that Christ is in the head but not in the body; rather He is complete in the head and in the body." (112)

46. Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily is "part of the liturgical action" (139), and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. Hence ordained ministers must "prepare the homily carefully, based on an adequate knowledge of Sacred Scripture" (140). Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided. In particular, I ask these ministers to preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of the word of God to the sacramental celebration (141) and the life of the community, so that the word of God truly becomes the Church's vital nourishment and support (142). The catechetical and paraenetic aim of the homily should not be forgotten. During the course of the liturgical year it is appropriate to offer the faithful, prudently and on the basis of the three-year lectionary, "thematic" homilies treating the great themes of the Christian faith, on the basis of what has been authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium in the four "pillars" of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the recent Compendium, namely: the profession of faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ and Christian prayer (143).

82. In discovering the beauty of the eucharistic form of the Christian life, we are also led to reflect on the moral energy it provides for sustaining the authentic freedom of the children of God. Here I wish to take up a discussion that took place during the Synod about the connection between the eucharistic form of life and moral transformation. Pope John Paul II stated that the moral life "has the value of a 'spiritual worship' (Rom 12:1; cf. Phil 3:3), flowing from and nourished by that inexhaustible source of holiness and glorification of God which is found in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist: by sharing in the sacrifice of the Cross, the Christian partakes of Christ's self-giving love and is equipped and committed to live this same charity in all his thoughts and deeds" (228). In a word, "'worship' itself, eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented" (229).

This appeal to the moral value of spiritual worship should not be interpreted in a merely moralistic way. It is before all else the joy-filled discovery of love at work in the hearts of those who accept the Lord's gift, abandon themselves to him and thus find true freedom. The moral transformation implicit in the new worship instituted by Christ is a heartfelt yearning to respond to the Lord's love with one's whole being, while remaining ever conscious of one's own weakness. This is clearly reflected in the Gospel story of Zacchaeus (cf. Lk 19:1-10). After welcoming Jesus to his home, the tax collector is completely changed: he decides to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay fourfold those whom he had defrauded. The moral urgency born of welcoming Jesus into our lives is the fruit of gratitude for having experienced the Lord's unmerited closeness.

07 May 2007

So, you wanna be a Catholic preacher. . .?

Well, OK, here are the basic texts you will need. . .

. . .several Bibles: the New Revised Standard is my personal favorite. You will need other translations though to be thorough. Try: NJB, SEV, NKJ, or (last resort) NIV. Avoid paraphrases like the The Living Bible.

. . .several biblical commentaries. The Oxford Bible Commentary is good, so is the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Caution: relying too heavily on commentaries will likely result in distinctly "academic homilies," that is, didactic sermons that show off how much research you've done. Not good.

. . .a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The hardcover edition has a scripture index so that you can cross-reference your lectionary texts with the pertinent doctrinal teaching. Very useful!

. . .a small but selective library of the spiritual masters. Let me suggest something compact like Harvey Egan's book, Anthology of Christian Mysticism. Nicely indexed by name and subject.

. . .access to the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

. . .access to papal, curial, episcopal documents.

. . .a small but selective library of good literature, including fiction and poetry. You can also find excellent poetry on the sites linked on the sidebar. Check out these English languages prizes and these for excellent suggestions of what to read. The point of reading good literature is to develop better writing skills.

. . .you also need good listeners, positive critics, maybe a blogsite, and a few people who really hate your preaching.

OK. What am I forgetting. . .?

Fr. Philip

REVISION: how could I forget the basic texts of any writer--a good dictionary and thesaurus!

06 May 2007

Sick of Love? Me, too!

5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 14.21-27; Rev 21.1-5; John 13.31-35
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation


Love, love, love, love…blahblahblahblahblah…I’m sick of love. Sick of reading about it. Sick of hearing about it. Sick of preaching about it. Seems like every time we turn around in the Easter season we’re listening to John prattle on about how Jesus commanded us to love one another or how Jesus says that loving our enemies is good for us or how he is love or God is love or the Holy Spirit is the Father loving the Son and vice-versa. Now, we hear that all those pagans out there will know that we are Christians by our love…by our love, they will know that we are Christians by our love! Sorry. Makes me a bit queasy though—kinda syrupy-sweet and honey-sticky. Almost cute. Is this what we’re about? Cute love? Jesus suffered the whip and died on a cross so that we are free to shoot sugary looks at one another and drip cutesy clichés about warm-fuzzies and teddy-bear hugs? Do I need to go put on the creamy-pink vestments and my Bunny rabbit slippers? No. Thank God and all the Saints…no. Love is not cute, cuddly, creamy, sticky-sweet, pink, huggie, warm, or fluffy. Love is not careful, balanced, gentle, meek, or meager. And love is most certainly not neutral, tolerant, ambiguous, confused, or permissive. Love is none of these. So, what is love?

The One who sits on the Throne says, “Look! I make all things new.” The old order has passed away. No more death. No more grief. No more pain. No more crying. What has always been is no more. What is/is going. What is coming is new, fresh, brightly clean, and pure. And this will not be accomplished by a tamed passion or a affected infatuation. Love is the divine juice of renewal; the power of perfecting gift; the living breath of re-creating wisdom; the Spirit that cuts away dead flesh and shocks a weaken heart; love is God’s passion, God’s might, His transformative command: God speaks His Word to nothing and everything IS…and it IS only in Love. What’s pink, fuzzy, sweet, or gentle about that?! Let’s see Hallmark put this on Valentine’s Day card: “How do I love you? Let me count the ways: first, I gave birth to reality using Nothing as my source; second, I took dirt and gave you a body and a soul and then watched you betray me; third, I destroyed the face of the earth and all but a few of you b/c of your wickedness; fourth, I sent my only son to be whipped bloody and spiked to a cross to pay for your sins…this is how I love you! XOXOXO—God the Father.” Now, this is not the Marvin Gaye/Barry Manilow, Chianti and roses mood we were looking for, uh? No, no it’s not.

Paul and Barnabas are running on love. They’ve received the Spirit of wisdom and truth, and they are running on love! Here’s what they are doing: making hundreds of new disciples all over Asia Minor; strengthening the veteran disciples in their trust of the Lord; helping them all to understand that hardships are an essential part of being Christ for others; they’re appointing elders, priests to leadership everywhere they go, teaching them how to fast and pray; they are proclaiming the Word, healing the sick, casting out demons; and, they are opening the doors of faith to the Gentiles, extending God’s invitation to them to jump into a revolution—to overthrow sin, to conquer death, and to enjoy the gift of life everlasting. Paul and Barnabas are finely honed, well-oiled, surgical grade instruments of God’s rejuvenating love! They are laying the foundation for the New Jerusalem that John sees in his revelation; they are dressing the Bride, perfuming her wrists, and adorning her with the finest jewels. And, guess what, brothers and sisters? We are that Bride! We are the raw materials for the New Jerusalem! And if we aren’t running on love, then what are we running on?

Maybe one reason we get sick of hearing about love during Easter is that preachers, especially Catholic preachers, tend to think of love in purely secular terms—Hallmark, Oprah, sappy romance novels. This means that they go on and on about love as a kind of permissive passion for ignoring sin and approving dissent. Love becomes the means and the excuse for disobedience and error. How often have we heard that God loves us unconditionally and, therefore, no one is capable of making a deliberative judgment about another’s public sin? This move excuses all of our favorite sins and gives us the false impression that love is God’s way of dealing with sin by emoting it away, or pretending it isn’t there, or by wishing it away on the grounds that we all fall short of His glory. We also hear love presented as the last reduction, the final seed of the gospel, the Thing Beyond Which There Is No Appeal, and therefore, if anything appears to violate love—a bishop’s order of excommunication, an infallible church teaching, a papal document—well, we can ignore the offending limit in favor of love. Love conquers all, after all. Right? Yes, it does, but we must remember what Love is and what it isn’t.

Love is always true. Never a lie. Love is always the glory of God. Never the glorification of man. Love always carries us to goodness. Never to evil. Love always binds us in obedience. Love never frees us to be disobedient. Love always heals, always cleans, sometimes hurts, sometimes casts out. Love never winks at sin, shrugs at injustice, or ignores the poor. Love always looks to Christ, his church, and his Mother. Love never uses the bottom-line, the convenient, the practical, or the efficient to destroy God’s creatures, especially His unborn children. Love always encourages spiritual growth from faithful experience. Love never gives hope to novelty for novelty’s sake nor does love trust innovation for the sake of excitement. Love can be a terrible whirlwind, a stone-shattering blow, a heart-ripping loss. But love always builds up in perfection, grows in wisdom and kindness; love attracts questions about eternal things, discourages attachment to impermanent things; and, when necessary, love will kick your butt, take your name, and call your mama!

If you are sick of hearing about love during the Easter season, you don’t know what love is. If you are complaining about hippy-dippy priests who whine all the time about love from the pulpit, you don’t know what love is. If you think love is best expressed with chocolates or a Starbuck’s gift card or perhaps you think real love is best signified with a quickie in your dorm room, then you don’t know what love is. Love makes you. Love saves you. Love delivers you to the throne of the Most High! You are not loved b/c you deserve it. You are not saved b/c you’ve earned it. You were not created b/c God needs you. Your being, my being—we exist, gratuitously, without merit or debt b/c our God, in His Goodness, draws us out of nothingness and makes us body and soul. We exist in Love because of Love for Love so that we may return to Love to be Love forever. And this is sometimes a terrible pilgrimage—painful, disillusioning, exhausting and dirty. But, at the end, you will be the newest creature b/c you are now a new creature.

Love perfects the imperfect. It shines up, buffs off, and sharpens. If you will become a well-oiled, surgical tool for God’s Word, you will love. You will speak the truth, spread goodness, honor beauty; you will correct error, confront sin, forgive offenses; and you will build up the Body in service and open the doors of faith to the stranger. Your life in Christ is a gospel epic not a Hallmark poem. Love us as Christ loves us…right to the cross, to the tomb, and on to the Father’s right hand.