28 September 2007

Because Christ was first. . .

Dominican Martyrs: Haggai 2.1-9 and Luke 9.18-22
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert
the Great Priory & Church of the Incarnation

The disciples could have said anything. Anything at all, really. They could have said, “You are a king come to save us from the political oppression of the Roman pigs.” Or, “You are this age’s particular, historical enfleshment of divine-human healing; a cosmic sign in flesh and blood, portending the eschatological consummation of the community of the divine.” Or, more simply, “You are John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other ancient prophet.” They could have said most anything. But what do they say when Jesus asks them, “…who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “The Christ of God.” And Jesus smiles and congratulates his student. The other disciples whoop-it-up in celebration that the secret is known, and Jesus, finally relieved of the burden of his identity, relaxes and prepares for a kinder, gentler ministry among The Knowing. Yea, not quite. Jesus rebukes them and orders them not to tell anyone what they know. Then, having mastered the art of cold water surprises to the face, Jesus Buzzkill predicts his passion, death, and resurrection. Party over with. Again, not quite.

Notice that the Crowds say that Jesus is just some ancient prophet risen again. And, despite the fact that Jesus asks all of the disciples the question at hand—who do you say that I am?—it is Peter alone who answers, “The Christ of God.” But for this correct answer Jesus rebukes them all and silences them! Why? At the exact point where his less than brilliant students finally get that he is who he says he is—the Messiah, the Christ—Jesus not only orders them to silence but chastises them for knowing the truth. Again, why?

Jesus knows that the Party is long from over. In fact, he knows how the whole thing ends and says so: betrayal, arrest, trial, rejection by the chief priests, execution, and resurrection—third-day-dead. He knows all of this. And he knows that Peter, the one with all the correct answers, will deny him over and over and over again. And he knows that he will go to his execution alone. That he must go alone—without his friends, without his fans, without his family. No crowding followers. No mobs of zealous converts trying to rescue him. No bloody riots in his name. Just a shameful death on a cross. The Christ of God dying—beaten and abandoned—on a cross.

Why couldn’t that be John on that cross, or Elijah, or Peter himself? Why didn’t the Romans and temple authorities arrest Jesus’ students and hang them up as well? His family? Why didn’t the whole lot of them meet their gruesome end as theological subversives, or liberating guerillas fighting against Rome? Why was it Christ alone that died on that cross? Jesus asks his students, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “The Christ of God.” Jesus rebuked them and ordered them not to tell no one. And no one knew that Peter knew. And no one knew that the Jesus’ disciples knew. No one knew. And Jesus knew that no one would know until he rose again and came again in a roaring wind with fire and then, and then, everybody to eyes to see and ears to hear was gonna know: Jesus is the Christ of God!

Jesus is the Christ of God. He is the only one who could die on the cross for us. We cannot say that Jesus is only one Christ among many. Though we can say that we are all Christs in the world because he was Christ first. We cannot say that Jesus is one incarnation of divinity among many. Though we can say that we are all being perfected in divinity because the Son became flesh first. We cannot say that Jesus is just one man among many, dead on a cross, and risen again for our eternal lives. Though we can say that we have all died with him, and we will rise with him because he died for us and rose for us first.

The crowds still say that he is a prophet, a teacher, an avatar, a buddha of sorts. Peter says, even now, and we say with him still, “Jesus is the Christ of God!”

27 September 2007

Entertaining the Novices

I recently discovered this Universal Fact:

Any word placed in front of the word "monkey" makes a funny phrase.

Try it. . .

Thanks, Rewrite, and Hire me!

I want to thank all of the thirty-something-odd bloggers out there who linked to my post, "Kids These Days..." The power of the blog to disseminate information and opinion is simply amazing.
I also want to thank all of those who posted comments here and the ones who sent me private emails--including one or two or more?--gentlemen who wear pointy hats to Mass. Your support is invaluable.

Also, my post received a lot of compliments (thanks!) and a few snarky dismissals (whatever) and a few very well-done critical appraisals from people I respect quite a bit.

I will mention one criticism here in particular and offer to make amends for it. More than one commenter on another blog and more than one in private emails took me to task for they called "problems with tone," i.e. they noted that I am coming across as "sarcastic and bitter." OK. I am a bit sarcastic. OK! OK! I am a lot sarcastic. I'm not bitter at all. I am frequently a Disappointed Idealist, but I do not wallow in regret or bitterness. No fun in that.

Also in my defense: 1) I'm a born and bred Southerner and we have a weird sense of humor down here, and 2) I survived liberal arts grad school in the '90's...which means I have a "survival of the fittest" attitude when it comes to debate. We were trained by Hungry Pitbulls with Radical Political Agendas. Sometimes my Mississippi "Suffer No Fools" humor and my "Gut Them Before They Gut You" mentality combine to create a literary monster. These are reasons...not excuses.

Anyway, my critics claim that my legit message would be better served w/o the smart-ass attitude. [Why does my Mama's voice suddenly ring in my head?!] And I agree to a degree. I think what resonates with people in that post is my willingness to "tell it like it is."

The emotional energy of the post is frustration and just a bit of anger. A passive critical slap in the direction of the offenders would have been much less effective with those who read this blog regularly. In other words, I was writing to my audience.

Now, I also realize that the sarcasm does not come off as very professional and this may lead people who don't know me to believe that I am an Unprofessional Priest. Far from it.

So, here's my offer: if anyone out there wants to use my post, "Kids These Days..." but finds the sarcastic tone to be too much or potentially off-putting to those you think might benefit from the actual argument, let me know via the combox and I will rewrite the post in more "professional" language for your use.

I'm only going to do this if there is a demand for it. Please, don't ask me to do just to see what such a post might look like. If you want to reprint in a bulletin or something like that, well, OK...I'll do it.

+ + + + + +

I am frequently asked if I am available for retreats, conferences, missions, lectures, writing jobs, etc. outside the University of Dallas setting.

The answer is: YES!

I have done all of the above on more than one occasion. And I am happy to do more. The only problem is that I am incredibly busy with my full-time job and two part-time jobs plus community commitments.

That said: I like to stay busy. So, it can't hurt to ask.

If you want to inquire about having me come speak or teach or "dance liturgically" (that would be U-G-L-Y, btw) or write something for publication, contact me at neripowell (at) yahoo (dot) com. You can also contact me through the Campus Ministry office of the University of Dallas (here).

The Priory usually asks for travel reimbursement and an agreed-upon stipend--contingent on time spent in prep work, degree of difficulty, time on-site, etc.

God Bless, Fr. Philip, OP

24 September 2007

Addition to the Hanc Aquam!

Please note the addition of the Pod-O-Matic Podcast Player to the left-hand side bar.

This is a much easier way of hearing my homilies on podcast than clicking on a link or going to the Pod-O-Matic site.

Also, you can enter your email address on the Player and receive notice that I have added a new homily!

Don't forget to stop by the buy POETRY for Fr. Philip Wish List or the buy PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY for Fr. Philip Wish List. There are lots of lonely books there just waiting for an eager Dominican friar to read them!

Use it or lose it

25th Week OT(M): Ezra 1.1-6 and Luke 8.16-18
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

[Click podOmatic Player to listen]

Take care how you hear.

With what do you listen? Eyes? Nose? Of course not! Ears? Maybe but no good. An opened-mind? Better but still not good enough. A contrite heart? Closer, much closer but not quite there yet. Hint: take care how you hear because “there is nothing hidden that will not become visible and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” Visible. Light. So, we do hear with our eyes after all! No. Eyes see. Ears hear. How you hear is the work of the Spirit—the Light of heaven shining to you, through you, and out of you “so that those who enter may see the light.” So, we have been given the Light to shine to others? Yes. Shine it for others and more light will given to you. Bundle it away under a vessel—say, fear of mockery, hoarding greed, or useless anxiety—and what little light you have will be taken away. Use it or lose it, right? Right. Begging to live in the Light of Heaven and then hiding it once you have received it is something No One does. And he who is No One is not someone you want to be. No One will whisper to you that you are being prideful when you shine out Heaven’s Light for others to see; that you are bragging about living in the Light; that you should be more humble, much quieter, less attention-seeking. It’s all about the Light, right? Yes. But the Light shines out through you to others. Without you that particle of Light, that wave of Light that you have been given will not shine. It is lost under the lie of No One. Take care, then, how you hear. Hear with a spirit longing to shine. Hear with the spirit of Someone who longs to glorify Light Himself.

Feeding the Fire Who loves you into His beautiful presence, burn yourself to cinder and ash.

23 September 2007

Growing Up to be What You Love Most

25th Sunday OT: Amos 8.4-7; 1 Tim 2.1-8; Luke 16.10-13
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

[<----click on the Podcast badge to listen!]

What will I be when I grow up? What will you be? Most of you here are still young enough to be asking that question with all seriousness. Some of us here ask the question with a little more humor and some sense of having failed to figure this out before now. For a 43 year old to ask, “What will I be when I grow up?” is a bit sad, a bit funny, and, I will argue, a perfectly reasonable question to ask, if that 43 year old is a Christian with a mind to be pleasing to God!

Here’s a basic spiritual principle that you can apply to your living out the faith day-to-day: I am now and will become that which I love most. So, one way to figure out what you want to be when you grow up is to figure out who or what it is that you love most. The underlying theological truth here is that since God holds us in being and since God is love, then it is love that holds us in being and love that defines our existence fundamentally. How we choose to participate in the love that is God is a decision about how we will shape, express, and nurture love for God, self, and others. In other words, what or who you choose to love most now is who or what you will become…eventually. Love God most, become God. Love money most, become money. Love sex most, become sex. Though this may sound appealing at first glance, please keep in mind: vanity, vanity, all is vanity…except Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—that is, God. So, whatever/whoever you choose to love and eventually become, make sure that that What or Who is permanent, everlasting, eternal b/c choosing anything less is the first choice you will make for your inevitable annihilation. Just ask yourself: do I want to become something or someone that will or who will die, rot, and never rise again?

Before moving to the gospel, let’s make a quick stop in the Psalms to shore up this basic teaching about superlative love and our existential future. Psalm 115 starts with a question from the enemies of God and ends with a profound insight into human nature: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’/Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done./Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands./They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see./They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell./They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk, and no sound rises from their throats./Their makers shall be like them, all who trust in them.” The idols have all of the features we have as humans (eyes, ears, noses), but they do not have life. They have no souls, no spirit; they are dead matter and without love. As the psalmist makes clear: if you love these idols, these lifeless statues, then you too become lifeless, without a soul, unable to love—the makers of idols, all who trust in the idols, will become their idols, their gods. Our God is in heaven—permanent, eternal, loving, and merciful—and so our destination, if we love God most, is a permanent, eternal, loving, and merciful life in heaven.

From psalmist to evangelist—St. Luke, specifically. In this gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: “No servant can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” The standard read on this teaching, and the standard homily derived from it, focuses on not becoming too attached to material goods—Mammon being the pagan god of wealth and all. A perfectly good approach. However, I want to bring in the prophet Amos and then go in another direction. Amos warns: “Hear this! you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” Who is he shouting at? Amos is shouting at those who will, after the festivals of the New Moon, begin to cheat the poor of the little that they have by rigging their scales and selling the refuse of the wheat. To them the Lord through Amos says, “…by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing [you] have done!” And just to emphasize this warning to those who would cheat the poor, the Church places Psalm 113 right next to this reading. Our response to this psalm: “Praise the Lord, who lifts up the poor!”

Let me ask you again: what do you want to be when you grow up? Listen again to what the psalmist sings this evening: “The Lord raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor/to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people./Praise the Lord, who lifts up the poor!” Now, by show of hands: who here wants to grow up to be among the poor? Exactly! It’s not the first choice of many. But it will be the last choice of those who remain. How can I say such a thing? “No servant can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Who will be the Master of your life? In more contemporary terms: who will you choose to be your Teacher? Will you choose to love most Wealth and take your lessons, get your education from earthly treasure? Or will you choose God to love most and take your most basic education from the One Who made you and loves you most? I doubt anyone here is going to shout, “Oh! I choose Mammon!” But do you choose Mammon in quieter, more subtle ways?

Let’s see. Who is Mammon? Yes, “who.” Mammon is a “who,” a noun; he is a demon, in fact, mentioned by St. Thomas Aquinas: "Mammon being carried up from Hell by a wolf, coming to inflame the human heart with Greed.” Milton says that Mammon is a fallen angel, a devil, who lusts after treasure. Avarice, then, is the cardinal vice that Mammon tempts us to. Greed is the spirit we invite in when we love wealth more than God. How do we do this—love wealth more than God—on a daily basis? The standard answer is that we are students of Mammon when we become inordinately attached to material goods. That’s true. But can we be students of Mammon if we consistently choose not to be “among the poor,” that is, if we make daily decisions that leave us outside poverty, outside the community of those who are routinely denied what is owed them in virtue of their status as children of the Father? Aquinas is clear on this. Generosity is a matter of justice, the virtue of giving others what is theirs by right. In our liberal democracies, we see this as a “violation of human rights.” In the Church, we must see this injustice as a violation of human dignity, violence done to the image and likeness of God in which we are all created. Simply put: to violate one’s own dignity as a person, or to violate the dignity of another as a person is a demonic act, an act of greed, violence done in the name of the demon, Mammon.

Lets’ go back to our basic spiritual principle: I am now and will become that which I love most. Given everything said here tonight: what do you want to be when you grow up? Are you ready right now to pray to God to put you among the poor? How ridiculous, Father! We’re students…we can’t get any poorer! Ah, but you see: that’s just a delirium brought on by all those Ramen noodles you’re been eating. You can be poorer. Much poorer. You could empty yourself entirely for another. You could give your life for a friend. You could die on a cross for your worst enemy. You could be starved to death in the Sudan. You could be tortured in Iraq or burned alive in Burma or thrown in prison in England or shot in the back of the head by the PLA in China. You die when your church is blown up in Iran. And why? Because you profess Christ as Lord. You can have nothing but Christ and die for that alone. That is poverty. What do you love most? That for which you are willing to die.

One more time: who do you love most? Love Love Himself and become Love for others—emptying yourself on the cross you have been given, using the gifts with which you have been graced. Anything, anyone less than this is to squander your inheritance as a child of God; you trash that which makes you loveable, you spit on the image and likeness of God Himself; to love anything, anyone less than God Himself—to serve a Master smaller and weaker, to take your education from a Teacher who will not die for you, who did not die for you—is to choose a life of folly; it is the choice to live your life as an enormous fool. You cannot serve two Masters. Nor can you love two Masters. Nor can you grow up to be both of those Masters. You will grow up to be one or the other. Choose then to be counted among the poor, those who have nothing but Christ and will die for everything they have.