13 July 2007

SpiritDefense 3.0

14th Week OT(F): Genesis 46.1-7, 28-30 and Matthew 10.16-23
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Listen to this homily here

We live by promise. Not only the possibilities of our unfolding potential—all the gifts we have yet used and perfected—but we also live in the world by assurances, pledges; for us, by divine guarantee. And these are not contracts. Viable contracts require “consideration,” that is, an exchange of goods or services, cash for product or merchandise for labor. The divine guarantees we live by, the promises that sustain us in being are not tit-for-tat bonds made between equals. We do not “deal” with God. And God does not “deal” with us. When we answer in faith our deepest longing, our blood and bone need for completion in God; when we pitch ourselves head first, arms opened into the life His Christ has made possible for us, we commit ourselves to the Truth of His Word. That Word—creating, forgiving, perfecting—abides with us as our fire, our breath, our voice, so that when we hear Him call, “Jacob! Jacob!” or “Bob! Bob!” or “Mary! Mary!” we may speak back with all the weight of an ancient promise: “Here I am, Lord.”

The Lord calls Jacob, and Jacob answers, “Here I am.” Then the Lord says, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt…” What is there to assuage Jacob’s fear of such a dangerous journey? The Lord promises: “. . .for there I will make you a great nation. Not only will I go down to Egypt with you; I will also bring you back here…” God’s promise of permanent presence is made. Jesus, teaching his Apostles, makes a promise. Warning his friends that preaching the Good News will get them killed, Jesus says, “When they hand you over [to governors and kings to be punished], do not worry about how you are to speak…You will be given at that moment what you are to say.” If the Word manifests himself in you so abundantly, so publicly that you find yourself confronted with the possibility of red martyrdom at the hands of God’s enemies, why would Christ abandon you at the most crucial moment of witness? He won’t; he promises: “…it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Let’s get a proper grasp on this idea. So, at the moment I am about to die for the faith, God’s Spirit possesses my body like some modern Delphic Oracle, and uses my mouth and tongue to argue my defense? No. OK. So, at the moment of martyrdom, I am inspired by God, in a flood of overwhelming emotion, to compose a lyrical defense of my faith, which will later be said to have been “God speaking through me”? No. OK. So, what then? As a defense against persecution, Jesus teaches his Apostles to be “shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” Shrewdness—being clever, wise—is a gift that needs practice to stay sharp. Simplicity of heart and mind—the uncomplicated easiness of trust—is a gift as well, also needing practice. When wisdom and simplicity are practiced daily, sharpened by every word and every deed, the abiding Word is clarified, tuned more tightly; our trust in his promises evolves into a boosted signal, into a sign of thriving grace. And the words that we speak under trial can only be from the Word b/c we are—persevering in abiding wisdom and simplicity—we are the Word Himself.

You will be hated because you trust the name of Jesus. That’s a promise. Not a contract. And when and if that hate turns to violence—state-sponsored or not—you will already have the Word with you to witness. This is not Jesus the Network Server downloading SpiritDefense 3.0 onto your spiritual hardrive. It is you—faithful, simple, wise, loyal to Christ’s teachings, loving—you, with the Spirit, a witness to the strength, the endurance of our Father’s promise of permanent presence among us. He has called His church to holiness. With everything we have, we must answer in obedience, “Here we are, Lord!”

Pic credit: Whitt Krauss, Martyrdom of St. Cecilia

09 July 2007

Blessed are you when you are hated. . .

St. John of Cologne, OP and Companions: 2 Cor 6.4-10 and Luke 6.22-28
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Listen to this homily here!

I want to announce to you this morning a difficult decision. After careful listening in prayer, consultation with my spiritual director, and a many discussions with my mama and daddy, I have decided, reluctantly, to be loved, included in the community, complimented, and thought of as a good person. I have arrived at this conclusion reluctantly b/c this means that I will no longer be blest as a disciple of the Lord. I can no longer count myself among those whom the world hates, ostracizes, insults, and calls evil. My days of exultation as a despised minister of the Word are over, and I watch even now as my reward in heaven shrivels up. I am, however, despite this, looking forward to being treated as a false prophet! As one who tells my admirers what they want to hear: happy prophecies, only bright-shiny futures where we are always doing what we ought—even when we’re not. The life of a true prophet is messy. Lots of rocks and mean dogs, spitting, rotten veggies, prison time, threats against life and limb. Angry kings and vengeful strippers. Yes, the life of a false prophet will do just fine for me. So, great! You may begin loving me now and thinking of me as a good person. And…the occasional gift would be OK too!

When Jesus tells his disciples that being prophets and preachers for his Good News will land them in jail, or on the cross, or worse, you have to wonder what he’s thinking. This is not the advice that P.R. firms are giving vocations offices around the country: “OK. Here’s what you do! Big poster with a bloodied seminarian in chains; wild mob beating him with bats and chains; you can see several of his classmates hanging from trees in the background. The caption? ‘Is Jesus Calling You to a Life of Severe Mob Beatings and a Trip to the Hangman’s Noose?’ Call Fr. Rudy for more info!” This is ridiculous, isn’t it? Yea. But here’s the real kicker: this is precisely how the church was built. The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.

Jesus understood then that his message of conversion, repentance, confession, mercy, and forgiveness would throw the cosmic order off its tracks. There is no balance in mercy. Mercy costs nothing to those who are shown mercy. Where’s the trade? Where’s the exchange? And then he goes on to really shake the foundations by teaching his disciples this bit of chaos: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you.” Why? Why would you do this? Not because Jesus says so. That’s mere compliance and not obedience. Listen: “You yourself show God to those who would harm you, be Christ to those who do not yet know God; will the best for those who will you evil and call on God’s grace for those who do not yet treat you as a brother or sister.” And what are we supposed to be doing here? Basically, in this malicious relationship, you and I are being called upon to sacrifice, to give up on pride, on being right for sake of mercy. We must shine out the mercy we have received from God. Otherwise, it could be said that we have received nothing of God’s mercy, nothing of His grace. How exactly will the Good News spread if we consistently confront Christ’s enemies with their own hatred, their own bitter bile, and vile violence? What are we witnessing to but their own rebellion?

It is a bit clearer to me now why we must be hated and thrown out and insulted for our preaching of the Good News. No one in their right mind is ready to die in order to love an enemy. But what happens when we are ready and when we do love and bless and pray for our enemies? They are confronted with the real possibility that their world, conveniently disordered in sin, is not the real world. And now they must choose: life or death. Sometimes they choose life for themselves. And sometimes they choose death for Christ’s preachers.

Advice from Paul: in all you do make sure you present yourselves as ministers of God, acting and speaking with patience, conducting yourselves with innocence, knowledge, sincere love in the Holy Sprit. You are poor but you bring great wealth to many. We seem to have nothing, yet everything is ours!

Pic credit: Gorkum Martyrs

08 July 2007

Naming Workers for the Harvest

14th Sunday OT: Isa 66.10-14; Galatians 6.14-18; and Luke 10.1-12, 17-20
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul
’s Hospital, Dallas, TX

Listen to this homily and all my homilies here

Watching this world pass it seems strange to find anyone rejoicing; strange to see or hear anyone playing out a joy, a moment of bliss or delight. From where do they snatch the energy required to spend even a second in glee? Where do they find air abundant enough to waste on trifling giggles? Even a small flash of laughter, burning at light speeds, holds heavy in a heart where darkness has soaked into muscle and blood; where something like sticky despair suffocates the tissue and sinew of faith. It is blinding and not enlightening—that burst of excited breath. Or maybe, like Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus, it is both: to be blinded is to be enlightened. You come to believe by trust what you cannot see in color. And you rejoice not b/c you see in faith but b/c your name is written in heaven.

Think about the seventy-two appointed in pairs to go out ahead of Christ! They go out, preach his Good News, and return rejoicing b/c of their great success. They have cast out demons in his name, healing the sick, restoring the diseased to purity. Jesus tells them that he has seen Satan fall like lightning from the sky. And he tells them that he has given to them the power to “tread upon serpents and scorpions.” They rejoice. They celebrate, throw praise and thanksgiving to the sky and give God their joy and their enlightened hearts. Then Jesus says to them, “. . .do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Do not rejoice in the Lord b/c you have been given power in His Name. Do not rejoice in the Lord b/c you can heal; because you can pray in tongues; because you can prophesy; because you can teach, preach, administrate, judge, preside, or serve. Do not rejoice because you are special in the Church, but rather rejoice because you are in the Church at all, because you are a member of the Body in the first place. Rejoice; please, rejoice because you are special in the world. But do not relax too much in your worldly specialness: there’s work to do. The harvest is HUGE and we don’t have enough workers to get it all done.

And why not? Why don’t we have more workers? And why do some of the workers we have not work? This work of Christ’s, this labor of love in Christ Jesus to sow his Saving Word, is appointed work, that is, work to which one is called, invited to. This is not the sort of work that one picks up on the side, or pecks around at for a week or two and leaves, or the sort of work that attracts “easy in, easy out” devotion. Jesus selects the seventy-two; he appoints them. You, you, you, you, and you and you…and he send them on their way with instruction. Note: they do not choose themselves for this work. They do not decide to go among the wolves as lambs and take charge of demons themselves. They are picked to do this and they are commissioned in Jesus name. Are we now short on workers because no one is taking on the responsibility of appointing disciples for the work to be done? We can ask—and we do all the time!—where are the seventy-two for us today? Where are the vocations to priesthood, religious life, lay ministry? Here’s a better question: why aren’t those who are charged with appointing the seventy-two for us now not doing so? Christ didn’t ask for volunteers. He NAMED his workers. Matthew. John. Simon Peter. Philip. Paul. He named them. At no point did Jesus ever stand before the crowd and say, “I need seventy-two volunteers to go like lambs among the wolves! Let’s see those hands, people!” Jesus knows what he is sending his workers to do. And he knows where he is sending them to do it. This is why the seventy-two are appointed ministers and not volunteers. Jesus knows that the harvest is abundant—it’s HIS harvest, after all—but he also knows that there are wolves among the sheaves. Satan has fallen from the sky like lightning. And his false light casts shadows where serpents and scorpions and wolves move to hide. . .and wait.

Jesus’ careful instructions to the seventy-two tell us a bit about what he thinks the wolves are waiting to do. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; pray peace on whatever house you enter; stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered; cure the sick where you are; preach the coming of the kingdom of God; and, if any town refuses you hospitality, shake off their dust—Sodom’s fate will look kind compared to what will happen to this town. Know this: the kingdom of God is at hand! Clearly, Jesus knows that the wolves will attack his ministers as money-grubbers, moochers, long-lingering guests, spiritual and civil provocateurs, snake-oil salesmen, and dupers of the gullible. The wolves will follow and provoke dissent under the pretense of righteousness; they will entice violence in the name of preserving purity and safety; they will lay claim to the prophet’s mantle and prophesy out of their dark hearts that these ministers of Christ are intolerant of other opinions, closed to dialogue, blind to a plurality of possible “kingdoms,” and committed to an cultural and social ethos that excludes the open-ended celebration of diversity and difference. The ministers, who are preaching nothing but the peace of Christ and the truth of his Good News, will finally be charged with preaching Hate. And when that charge is repeated on the streets, in the media, among the disciples, the wolves all sharply smile.

Watching this world pass it seems strange to find anyone rejoicing; strange to see or hear anyone playing out a joy, a moment of bliss or delight. From where do they snatch the energy required to spend even a second in glee? We could count the sources of material joy if we needed to. But there is just one source of eternal joy: Christ Jesus. For those chosen for this work—all the baptized!—our second of glee, our moment of bright delight is bringing the peace of Christ to the world by preaching his gospel with anointed lips and calloused hands. Our enduring joy comes from the knowledge that our names are written in heaven. We are, you and I, inscribed—essentially, substantially— carved into the very book of God’s Beauty; we are Words of Truth and whole paragraphs of Goodness. And so we rejoice not b/c of our power or our gifts or our deeds. We rejoice b/c we belong to God! And His kingdom is at hand. Remember that when the wolves begin to howl and the snakes begin to rattle: His kingdom is at hand, and you have been chosen as his herald. What are you doing to preach the coming of the kingdom?

Think of Paul: he tells the Galatians that he bears the marks of Jesus on his body. That he has been crucified to the world and the world to him. He is a new creation for whom the old law means nothing. How have you been crucified to the world? How have you been both blinded and enlightened? What can you no longer see in the world b/c of the light of Christ? Let the peace of Christ control your heart! And give thanks that his light burns away the shadowed hiding places of wolves and scorpions for they cannot harm you.

One last question, if you are ready to rejoice: when you are appointed, will you say, “Yes, I will be a worker for the harvest!” If so, may the Word of Christ dwell richly in you and may you flourish like the grass in spring. If not, well, be prepared to sweep up some sandal dust.

Pic credit: Gerald Huthart