26 October 2007
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
[NB. Not recorded just yet...]
[NB. Not recorded just yet...]
The classroom is empty. Again. Third day in a row. I walk to the departmental office and spend about fifteen minutes with the secretary trying to figure out why my students—all 320 of them in nine courses—are not coming to class. Her English is as bad as my Chinese. Finally, she takes me into the hallway and points at a small chalkboard and says, “Away, away.” Apparently, the beautifully rendered pictographs— some resembling row boats on a river of bamboo and others complex computational formulae—apparently these explain to me that my students are in Shanghai for a week, practicing their English on unsuspecting American tourists. I am illiterate and therefore incapable of acting according to the signs.
My failure as a reader of Chinese pictographs was (and still is) a matter of ignorance. I just don’t know how to do translate Chinese. The multitudes facing Jesus are in a slightly different predicament. They can read the signs shown them, properly interpreting and translating the cloud formations and wind temperature to predict correctly upcoming weather conditions. But they will not to translate and interpret properly the signs Jesus has given them, signs that point to his identity as their long-awaited Messiah. For Jesus, this is a matter of their hypocrisy rather than their ignorance.
How are these “illiterate” people being hypocritical? First, they are clamoring after Jesus, asking for sign after sign to prove that he is who he says he is. Each sign seems to demand another until he yells at them exasperated: “You generation of vipers! No sign will be given you but the sign of Jonah!” Their calls for more signs is not a desire for certainty but a lust for spectacle. Second, if their “illiteracy” is willful, that is, if they are merely pretending ignorance of the significance of Jesus’ signs, then they are indeed hearing the Word but failing to welcome the Word into their lives. And, third, and probably most frustrating to Jesus, is that their hypocrisy is an outright denial of their prophetic heritage as a priestly people. The observant Jews in the crowd have celebrated the Passover annually and know that their people await the coming of the Messiah. They know the signs. They know what to look for with Christ’s coming. Yet, still they clamor for more miracles, more evidence, more and better theater.
Paul helps us understand this a little better: “…if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me…when I want to do right, evil is at hand.” Here we have a common, human experience of confronting our disobedience: we know the right thing to do, but we choose not to do it. Evil is at hand. Not an external, demonic force but an internal desire to have our own way contra God’s will for us. Repulsed by what we are called to do in God’s will, we instead wait for another sign, clamor for yet another showing, a tastier, prettier warning.
Though we may empathize with our ancestors here, it is too late for us to feign illiteracy! We are well beyond the moment of convincing that Jesus is who he says he is. We do not have the luxury of leisurely, willful doubt. Paul, the miserable one, asks in his misery: “Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” Who will save him from his flesh, the skin and bones of his disobedience? Of course, this is a rhetorical question! Surely, Paul, converted to an apostle from his life as a persecutor of Christ’s family, converted by a direct encounter with the resurrected Christ, surely, he knows who has saved him from his disobedience. For us too, we who will come forward to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ in our eucharist, we too know who has saved us from our disobedience. The question for us now is: do we leave here wanting more, running after more and better signs? Tastier, prettier, more dramatic indications that we are loved by a merciful Father? What more do we need?
Is there a tastier, more beautiful miracle than the one we witness this morning?
25 October 2007
24 October 2007
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory
[Click on Podcast Player to listen]
[Click on Podcast Player to listen]
Secrets require vigilance. Keeping secrets secret requires vigilance, a studied readiness to deny information, or better hide the contents of the secret, or limit the secret’s dissemination. We can encode a secret to pass it more easily between those who know the code. We can whisper the whole secret to another in plain language, risking an eavesdropper but also insuring no mistake in the transmission. Or, to be perfectly clear, we can encrypt our secret in a parable; use the parable to teach our friends the secret; and then, trusting their good sense, their intelligence, and experience, leave the interpretation and implementation of the secret in their capable hands. To those who hear the parable, much is given and much will be required. So, after hearing the parable of the master’s house and the thief, to be sure that he is hearing Jesus correctly, and to be sure that he is being charged with being vigilant, Peter asks a very reasonable question, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” In answer, Jesus explains the parable.
For some time now in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has been promising his apostles a share in his kingdom. Their status as loyal friends, studious disciples, and industrious apostles has won them a special place at both the earthly and the heavenly banquet. Of course, they think this special place is at the head of the table with Christ. Little do they understand (though Jesus has said it many times) their place of honor is among the servants serving the guests. As those who will lead after the Master has left, they serve now and serve ever after. It is in rendering service as stewards, as slaves, that Jesus’ inner circle, his most intimate friends, lay claim to their inheritance. Their vigilance then is not primarily against doctrinal error or the Pharisees or the Romans or even against the Devil himself. Their vigilance is against their own anxiety and imprudence. When the Master is delayed in returning to them, it will be their faith in his promised return and their prudence as ones left in charge that will be tested. In other words, truly their status as faithful servants is tested most severely during that time between the Master’s expected return and his actual return. Here are they (and we!) most carefully examined for infidelity and sloth.
The “secret”—given to the disciples and anyone else with ears to hear and eyes to see—is openly articulated by Paul in his letter to the Romans: “…although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted.” Note carefully: we have been entrusted to Jesus’ teaching and made obedient; the teaching has not been entrusted to us. Jesus’ teaching guards us against sin. Given this then, we are “freed from sin, [we have] become slaves of righteousness.” Our righteousness in Jesus’ teaching, that is, our “rightness” with the Father guarded by Christ’s teaching, satisfies that longing for freedom that is encoded in our human nature: we desire, more than anything, the divine excellence for which we were created, for which we are re-created.
Against the thieves of imprudence and sloth, especially the thief of righteousness rooted in self-aggrandizement, we are given the most powerful weapon of obedience! Paul writes that we are to present ourselves to God “as raised from the dead to life…” No longer dead in sin, we are alive—always living—in the truest, most beautiful, the best friendship possible. We are slaves of Christ, stewards of his palace, entrusted with the keys to his kingdom. And because much has been given to us, much will be required, and more and more and more.
The secret is: there is no secret. The parable is for everyone. We know the Master’s will for us. And since sin has no power over us, and since we are not under the law but purchased through His gift of freedom, we do his will as a matter of our perfection. Let him return and say to each of us then, “Blessed are you, faithful and prudent servant, you have been vigilant in your duties! Here is your reward: a broom and miles of halls to sweep.”
Also, please note that books purchased from Amazon's used bookstores usually do not come with a packing list, so I frequently get books and have no idea who sent them.
Regardless: THANK YOU for your generosity!!!
Check out my new blog venture later today. . .say, late afternoon. . .for the first of what I hope will be a series of kNOt+homi(lies). These are homilies with a postmodern flavor ad experimentum.
22 October 2007
21 October 2007
While driving all over Texas today, I heard this report on sexual abuse in the public school system several times.
And I bet I thought the same thing every faithful Catholic thought when he/she heard that public school teachers were molesting our kids: "I wonder if the media will call for radical reform of the public education system? Or, perhaps argue that women and married folks should be allowed to study for and be hired as public school teachers? Or, maybe call into the question the very idea of 'public education' at its root?"
And then I bet most of them concluded this brief fantasy in the same way I did: hysterical laughter and teary eyes.
Frankly, I'm surprised to see this much coverage. Wanna bet it's gone by Friday?