22 September 2007

Kids These Days: What they don't want from the Church

There’s a lot of hand-wringing over the sharp decline in youth participation in the Church in the last few decades. I won’t go into the stats b/c I have always believed that Math is of the Devil…

How do we in ecclesial leadership (lay and ordained) get young people into the pews these days?

I’m in a very unusual situation here at the University of Dallas. Our Catholic student population is (for the most part) a self-selected group of young people who yearn for a more traditional spirituality and liturgical life. Our job in campus ministry is less about “getting them to church” as it is about getting them to see the Church as truly catholic. Frankly, I’d rather find myself having to teach the fullness of the faith to more “conservative” Catholics than having to defend the faith against secularist/modernist doubts planted by the ever-elusive, always-changing “Spirit of Vatican Two.”

Here’s what works for us:

Teach the apostolic faith full on…no compromises on basic doctrine or dogma. This generation of college students can smell an intellectual/spiritual weasel a hundred miles away. They would rather hear the bald-faced Truth and struggle with it than listen to a priest/minister try to sugar-coat a difficult teaching in the vain search for popularity or “hipness.”

Preach the gospel full on…ditto. Tell it like it is and let the students grow in holiness. Yes, they will fail. Who doesn’t? But let them fail knowing what Christ and his Church expects of them. Lowering the moral bar comes across as expecting too little from them. What does that say about the Church’s view of our future ecclesial leaders? They can’t cut it, so we have to shorten the race.

Give them charitable work to do…present this work as a kind of “churchy social work” and they will not stay away in droves. I regularly cite Matthew 25 as my scriptural backing for asking them to do volunteer work in the community. Frankly, They have been beaten with the Social Justice-Work stick all their lives and most of what they hear sounds like the socio-economic engineering agenda of a modernist, socialist political party. This is attractive to some, but my experience is that students yearn for a chance to do something Truly Good for their community. If their leaders loudly and proudly attach volunteer work to the Gospels as a an exercise in charity rather than an experiment in social engineering, they will come.

Challenge them intellectually…these are smarts kids. They want to know what the Church teaches and why. They don’t always agree with the Church. Fine. Coming to holiness through obedience is a long, long road for some (..even for Dominican friars who try really hard!). They aren’t afraid of tough texts or difficult arguments. Just give them the documents, read along with them, answer questions honestly and clearly, and let them make the choices they will be responsible for. You have no control over what they will come to believe or practice. Fortunately, that’s not our task. Jesus said, “Preach and teach the gospel.” He said nothing about punishing those who will not hear or see.

Feed them…they’re poor and hungry. Yes, I mean feed them spiritually, but I also mean feed them literally—food, drink, and fellowship do amazing things for students on budgets and for students who have endured slap-dash catechesis and dumbed-down, irreverent liturgy.

For the ecclesial leaders over 45 y.o. (esp. campus ministers):

These students aren’t you at 18. Apply your own standards of liberality and let them explore the fullness of the Church’s ancient traditions. You had a crappy childhood at St. Sixtus of the Perpetual Frown under the bruising discipline of Sr. Mary of the Five Wounds of Christ, so religious habits, rosaries, crucifixes, devotional booklets, Latin, incense, sanctus bells, etc. all remind you of stifling dogmatic lectures, knuckle-rappings, silly moral imperatives, triumphal-martial Catholicism, etc. Guess what? They aren’t you! They didn’t have these experiences, so they don’t associate Eucharistic adoration and First Friday Masses with intellectual repression and physical pain. Let them transform these traditions and make them their own. This is what you did, right? Well then, be consistent and apply your own principles. If you don’t, they will simply ignore you as a dinosaur and look for unofficial leadership elsewhere…which is exactly what you did when your elders failed to allow you the room you needed to explore and grow!

You didn’t follow in the religious/spiritual footsteps of your parents, why would you expect them to follow in yours? More than anything these younger generations need our patience. Keep your contempt and snarky commentary to yourself. You only injure your already sketchy credibility.

You grew up (for the most part) in a sexually repressed culture crowded with rules and punishments. They didn’t. They grew up in the sexual chaos your revolution caused and still celebrates. If they want to figure out what virginity, chastity, and NFP is all about, let them. Again, your snarky predictions of their inevitable failure will only serve to further damage your credibility—it will not deter them. Also, ask yourself: why are you threatened by their desire to put their sexuality in the context of faithful marriage?

These younger generations respect ecclesial authority most when those in authority show themselves to be people of integrity and strength. They do not expect moral perfection from you, only consistency and heroic effort. Failure is a demon they struggle with daily. Your efforts to weaken the moral ideals of the faith so that they might “succeed” are patronizing. We have to own up to the fact that recent attempts to undermine the moral teachings of the Church are really about the Baby-boomer generation’s obsession with sex and its very public need to have their sexual lives approved and celebrated, especially by those most likely to disapprove.

Also, please, please, please don’t assume that they want their Christian lives to mirror their secular culture. You wanted the Church to look more and more like your “times.” They don’t. They want their Christian lives to be counter-cultural, against the secular grain. Yes, they are extremely na├»ve sometimes about what this actually means but you will lose them instantly if you think an MTV Mass is the hip thing to do. Why would they come to a MTV Mass? They have MTV (and worse) 24/7 on their cell phones. They don’t need or want you for entertainment. Church is not a concert or an amusement park. What they don’t have on their cell phones is the Real Presence of Christ in his Eucharist.

21 September 2007

Mercy not sacrifice, sinners not the just

St. Matthew: Eph 4.1-7, 11-13 and Matthew 9.9-13
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass & Church of the Incarnation

(<---click Podcast badge to listen...)

We are urged by Paul, a prisoner for the Lord, to live lives worthy of the call we have received. How do we do this? As always, Jesus has the truth of our answer. If you do nothing else with your life in Christ, do this: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Jesus’ own gloss on this grand statement immediately follows: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” If we are urged to live lives worthy of the call we have received and the call we have received is Christ’s call to us as sinners to repentance and we come to the fullness of the truth of who Christ is and what he does when we learn the meaning of “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” then we have a single choice for our salvation, the same choice Christ gives the odious customs officer, the damnedable tax collector, Matthew: “Follow me.”

Follow Christ.

If Jesus can approach a Jewish man who works for the Roman version of the IRS, and say to him with all sincerity and grace, “Follow me,” then we can all find ourselves sitting at that customs post, working for the enemy of our own people, our own nation, and hear Jesus’ call to repentance, living lives worthy of that call. We, along with Matthew, are sinners and we, along with Matthew, are pressed into a daily conversion, a weekly transformation that moves us step by step, leap by leap closer and closer to the One Body, the One Spirit, “the one hope of [our] call.” That one hope is this: that we come to allow into our lives, lives made worthy by Christ and our repentance, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all”—one Father of ALL.

The one sacrifice of Christ on the cross is every sacrifice will we ever need to make. There is nothing else for us to sacrifice. What can we sacrifice that is a better gift, a greater oblation than the self-sacrifice of the Son of God for our eternal lives? My own life, given in suffering and death for another, is efficacious only b/c Christ gave his own life in suffering and death for us all first. In other words, my death for you or your death for me is a sacrifice worthy of our call b/c Christ, in his one sacrifice on the cross, has already made every sacrifice we will ever make a success before we make it. Therefore, as ones called to live worthily in Christ, we are to live lives of mercy and not lives of sacrifice!

What would such a life look like? Paul, a prisoner of the Lord, writes to the Ephesians that they are to live their lives “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…” Let me suggest that “the bond of peace” is not some kind of “live and let live” or a “you do your thing and I will do mine” morality, but rather a bond that frees us from fighting with one another and wrangling over the petty stuff so that we may hear the Word and see the Word in one another, maturing in the hope of our call--“one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.”

Jesus says to the vile tax collector, Matthew: “Follow me.” Matthew gets up and follows Christ. He follows Christ to the desert, the sea, the houses of prostitutes, dinner with Roman officials, to the markets, to the Garden, and eventually, to his own cross. Grace is given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Some will be graced to lives of quiet witness. Some to lives of noisy work. Some to lives of poverty and sickness and others to lives of wealth and health. And because God loves us all and each differently, we will all be made worthy according to our gifts. Some will be teachers and some preachers and some prophets and others will be fathers, mothers, and others still will be eunuchs for the kingdom of God. But first we are called as sinners to lives of repentance, graced with a longing for perfection in Christ.

And because he died for us, we must give to one another mercy and expect from one another mercy alone.

19 September 2007

Dominican Rite

Dominican Rite celebrated in the chapel of the Angelicum(?)

I've had a few emails asking about the Dominican Rite of the Mass. . .I know almost nothing about this rite. However, in a series titled, History of the Dominican liturgy, Fr. Augustine Thompson, OP gives us a great summary of the rite.

Check it out!

Reaction from Santa Sabina

. . .(ahem). . .not just the Roman Dominicans were surprised. . .and appalled and offended and scandalized. . .I mean, come on! We've come to expect this sort of nonsense from Jesuits! ;-)

Rome Dominicans surprised at Dutch proposal for priestless Masses

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The general curia of the Dominicans expressed surprise over a booklet published by its order in the Netherlands recommending that laypeople be allowed to celebrate Mass when no ordained priests are available. In a written statement released by the Vatican Sept. 18, the Dominicans' Rome-based leaders said that, while they "laud the concern of our brothers" over the shortage of priests, they did not believe "the solutions that they have proposed are beneficial to the church nor in harmony with its tradition." The statement, dated Sept. 4, acknowledged the Dutch Dominicans' concerns about the shortage of vocations to the priesthood and the difficulty in offering the faithful in the Netherlands a wider celebration of the Eucharist. But while the statement said Dominican leaders shared those same concerns it said they did "not believe that the method they (Dutch Dominicans) have used in disseminating" a booklet to all 1,300 parishes in the Netherlands was an appropriate way to discuss the issue.

I've search in vain for the text of the statement from Santa Sabina. I'm curious about who signed it.

17 September 2007

Podcast links...


I've decided to stop linking each homily to its Podcast. Of the last 300 hits there have been only five clicks on the "Listen here!" links. All of my Podcast traffic is going directly to Pod-o-Matic through Bookmarks, subscriptions, or feeds.

So, if you want to hear my homilies preached, please click on the Pod-o-Matic badge on the left hand sidebar.

Click over there!

CAUTION! Prayer is dangerous...

Danger! Risk!

24th Week OT(M): I Tim 2.1-8 and Luke 7.1-10
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

Prayer is dangerous. Some might add that it is futile as well. Or maybe superstitious or magical or essential or risky but worth it. Prayer is intimacy with God. Any moment where you find yourself intimately holding the will of our Father in your body and soul, you are praying. You may petition, give thanks and praise, intercede for someone. You may adore God. And, if you are so inclined, you may contemplate the divine in a life of study in order to share the fruits of your contemplation with others. Regardless of your technique or goal, Paul makes it absolutely clear to Timothy that God expects us to pray. I repeat: prayer is dangerous…not only because you sometimes get you pray for, but because the first fruits of all prayer accrue to the Pray-er, the one praying. Prayer is dangerous because it is divinely designed to change substantially those who take it up as a habit.

Let’s say you’ve decided to live a life of prayer. What can you expect as an eager Pray-er? In no particular order, you can expect most of the following: an overarching sense of peace and joy; a lot of turmoil and struggle day-to-day; a slow growth toward obedience and charity; an occasional raucous tumble with angels and devils alike; long periods of spiritual productivity and emotional health; longer, darker periods of spiritual aridity and roller-coaster passions; the overwhelming presence of the Triune God; and His total absence, an absence that threatens you with despair. In other words, as a creature who chooses to obey God and to pray habitually, you will find yourself becoming more intensely a creature, more fully human as you work out your perfection in His grace. And it is vital, essential that you understand that in prayer your goal is to become fully human, perfectly human as Christ is perfectly human. You will fail if you think your goal is to become an angel. Prayer does many wonderful things for us. It will not, however, help you switch species. Therefore, let God worry about making you divine in His own time.

Our centurion this morning is the perfect pray-er. What does he do? First, he is praying, petitioning for someone else—an act of charity. Second, he involves the entire community in his prayer. He asks the Jewish elders to petition Jesus for help. Next, the Jewish elders acknowledge the centurion’s largesse to their nation and use this to persuade Jesus to do as the soldier asks. Jesus agrees. However, the centurion meets them half-way and then confesses, in great humility, that as a pagan he is not worthy of having Jesus in his house. And then he confesses, again with astonishing humility, that he knows that Jesus has the authority to heal his slave with a word. Jesus is amazed. The slave is healed. And prayer is once again shown to be a very dangerous practice.

When the centurion confesses his absolute trust in Jesus’ power, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” How is this dangerous? Jesus has just publicly admitted that a pagan, a man with no filial connection to the God of Israel, is, despite this debilitating flaw, a man of faith. And it is through trusting prayer—not nationality, not racial heritage, not family affiliation, and not religious creed—but through faith that the centurion’s prayer succeeds. It is through trust in Christ and trust in Christ alone. In Gaudium et spes, the Council Fathers teach us that Christians will die and rise again with Christ and that his promise of resurrection carries us in hope. Addressing the situation of non-Christians, they continue: All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery”(n 22). Thus, the possibility of becoming Christ through Christ in prayer.

Is there anything more dangerous than that?

16 September 2007

Defeated by Love, we are found!

24th Sunday OT: Exo 32.7-11, 13-14; 1 Tim 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-10
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul
, Dallas, TX

Listen here!

Once again we come upon Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees and scribes in what appears to be their nearly obsessive campaign to embarrass the Lord in public and to discredit his ministry. In what our own contemporary media would call “Sinner-Gate,” these self-righteous prigs point their accusing fingers at Christ and claim that he is defiling himself as a Jew and a rabbi by eating with tax collectors and sinners. This attempt to paint Christ with an Unclean brush is thwarted, of course, by a well-placed parable and Jesus’ divine wisdom. Let’s take these parables apart and find out how we can avoid joining forces with those determined to destroy our Savior’s public ministry.

To start, my guess is that we all know what a sinner is, but do all of us know why tax collectors are a problem for the priestly class of Israel? Basically, tax collectors are Jews who work for the occupying Romans. They are, in essence, working for the enemy and they have something of a reputation for being prone to “skimming” the tax-take at the expense of their fellow Jews. For an observant Jew to welcome one of these guys into his home and to eat with him is equivalent to one of us gladly providing room and board to Benedict Arnold! We would be loudly and proudly coming out of the Traitor Closet and declaring our allegiance to the enemies of America. That the Romans are brutal occupiers, a foreign force ruling through a Jewish king only adds to the stink of the tax collector. And, by association, to anyone who eats with them. It is precisely that association, that is, the implied relationship that eating with someone brings to mind that causes Jesus his problems with the Pharisees.

You see, the Pharisees are causing two problems for Jesus: one religious and one political. The religious problem is that Jesus is a rabbi, a teacher of the Law. He doesn’t belong to either “school” of the Law represented by his accusers. In other words, he is neither a Pharisee or a scribe—for lack of a better term, these are names for “denominations” in Judaism. Jesus belongs to either another school that we don’t know much about (some say the “Essenes”) or he is simply free-lancing. Regardless, his authority as a rabbi more or less rests on his public reputation as an observant Jew, which we know he was. If his rep as a rabbi can be undermined, then his allegedly subversive teachings can be dismissed. So, his theological rivals attack him at what they think is his weakest spot: he is associating with traitors and sinners, which make him an unclean Jew, someone to be cast out and left out until he has repented and observed the rules of being made clean again. Jesus’ political problem is just as complex and dangerous. Jesus is preaching the coming of his Father’s Kingdom. This refers back to the prophecies of Isaiah and vaguely hints at some sort of anti-Roman, anti-Temple revolution. Is he claiming to be the King of the Jews in defiance of Roman rule? He is trying to destroy the Temple and set himself up as High Priest? This makes the Pharisees and scribes—those who have the most to gain by keeping the Romans happy—very, very nervous. Here’s the plan: publicly accuse him of being unclean; undermine his authority as a rabbi; emphasize his political ambitions to the Romans; and save the Jewish state and the Temple from Roman wrath.

Now, we have to understand the Jewish notion of cleanliness. Simply put, very simply put: cleanliness is not transferable, while uncleanliness is. To associate with a sinner makes you a sinner. To associate with a saint, however, does not make you a saint. Jesus knows this—for all the obvious reasons, not the least of which is that he is fully divine!—but he goes right ahead and welcomes sinners into his company and then eats with them! And his reasons for doing so are even more shocking. Jesus claims that he is bound to offer friendship to sinners because he is the Son of God come to save sinners from their sin. For his religious and political enemies, this is at once scandalous and advantageous.

Jesus undoes their plot, however, with two parables (three in the longer reading for today). First, he notes that a man with 100 sheep will leave the larger portion of his flock to search for one lost sheep. Surely, this appeals to the practical sensibilities of his listeners. Who wouldn’t go off in search of lost property, right? Once the lost sheep is found, there is an excellent reason for a party. Likewise, our Father will leave his righteous to their graced state and go after the sinner. Once this sinner is found, there is great rejoicing. He says, “…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” Therefore, it is not only perfectly acceptable for him (and for us) to eat with traitors and sinners, it is required of him (and of us). The second parable makes the same point. A woman with ten coins loses one and sweeps her house in search of the single lost coin. When she finds it, she throws a party in celebration. Again, Jesus says, “In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” So, Jesus does what Jesus does best: he interprets the Law and the received tradition through his own commandment to love. We do not abandon sinners to their sin out of fear of contamination; rather, we welcome them in, love them, show them the necessity of repentance, and then rejoice when they are “found.”

We have as a post-resurrection witness in St. Paul to the effectiveness of this teaching. Paul confesses to Timothy that he, Paul, is “an example” for sinners. He writes: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these sinners, I am the worst. But because I am the worst sinner, I was treated with great mercy so that in me, the worst sinner of all, Christ Jesus might show his patience to those who would come to believe in him for their eternal lives.” Paul then praises the King of Ages, the only God: “…[to Him be all] honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” And thus, the Pharisees and scribes are defeated by Love.

We too are defeated by Love. And thank God for this awesome defeat! For their disobedience, the Jews with Moses are again threatened with divine punishment. However, Moses appeals to God, “reminding” Him that His people now are the same people that He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be “as numerous as the stars” and that “this land” would be for their children’s children a “perpetual heritage.” God relents. Why? Obviously, Moses did not change God’s mind. God relented because he demonstrated to God that he, Moses, remembered the covenant. This covenant, made by Love in love, is our Father’s promise to find us when we are lost, to come after us when we stray, to sweep up His house until we are recovered. Our worst sins, our most terrible wanderings are defeated by His promise to love us, to make us His people, to give us a lasting heritage as His children. And so, we gratefully sing with David in his Psalms: “Create for me, O Lord, a clean heart, and renew in me a loyal and dedicated spirit…Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth will proclaim your praise!” Defeated by Love, all we can do is love as we ourselves have been loved.

Now, does this mean that we love sinners in order to approve of their sin? Do we welcome sinners among us in order to say to the world, “We do not think that this sin is really all that sinful”? NO, absolutely not! We never welcome sin into our homes, or to our tables. Jesus ate with the traitors and sinners in order to show them his Father’s love so that they could repent. Knowing sin ourselves, knowing the devastation that sin has caused us and continue to cause us, we welcome fellow sinners into the House, to the Table in order to show them (and to remind us) what we have seen: our Father’s love defeating sin, conquering death, healing all wounds, and restoring life to those murdered by their own disobedience. No repentant sinner can ever be turned away. However, sinners coming to us to find approval for their sin, or refuge from the consequences of their obstinate sin should be shown the Way, and if they fail to follow that Way, shown the door and invited back when they heed the Spirit’s call to holiness in Christ. There is here a very delicate balance.

Let me end with what I think is the crux of that balance for us: your willingness, your eagerness to pray for yourself: “In your goodness, O Lord, have mercy on me; with your great love wipe out my sin… My repentant spirit, O Lord, is my sacrifice to you.”

Will you rise up and go to your Father?