25 January 2008

Struck Blind to See

Conversion of St Paul: 22.3-16 and Mark 16.15-18
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert
the Great and Church of the Incarnation

[NB. This podcast sounds funny b/c I am getting a cold. . .]

I was hit in the head with a brick once. My brother threw it at me right after I threw two bricks at him. Once, while helping dad put up a barbed-wire fence, the tightly wound end unwound and smacked me across my face. I’ve been bitten several times by the emotionally unstable. Various bodily fluids thrown at me and on me. I’ve been in only one serious auto accident and numerous accidents with chainsaws, axes, lawnmowers, my ’69 Pontiac Executive, and a widely swung two x four to the jaw. I had to help physically restraint a police officer once while a psych nurse got a needle full of Haldol in his hip. I’ve watched patients in the trauma ward die. And then come back to life with a little help. I’ve seen beautiful black puppies slaughtered and dressed for food in a Chinese market. And I watched a Japanese family eat a raw fish while it still breathed. I even had to help a nurse suture a self-inflicted wound on a male patient. Let’s just say his “manhood” was telling him to do bad things, so he, well. . .snipsnip. Once, I was within days of dying from a blood-staph infection. Not once during any of these highly dangerous, highly emotional, deeply life-changing events, never did I hear a voice or see a light telling me to preach the Good News to the whole world. Then, again, I’m not (and have never been) Saul the infamous persecutor of the Church; nor Paul, the missionary apostle to the Gentiles. Maybe it is the case that Paul is a little less hard-headed than your average Mississippi farmboy.

Paul, well on his way to Damascus, is knocked to the ground by a flash of light and blinded. In his darkness, he is persecuting the Church—eyes and heart closed—; he arrests, jails, tries, and imprisons members of Christ’s Body. Ananias is told to go look for the blinded persecutor and teach him the faith. Ananias objects, saying that he has heard that Saul is an infamous enemy of the Church. But the Lord says to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…” Ananias does as he is ordered, finding the blinded Saul and offering him the baptism of water and spirit. Once his sight is returned to me, his vision of the Church is radically changed. Now, he preaches Christ and him crucified.

All of this serious machination to get Paul on our side has a larger and better purpose than simply winning a hard one for the team. Without the benefit of Jesus’ one-on-one instruction that the other apostles received, Paul must do what the other Eleven were commissioned to do,”Go into the whole world an proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” That’s a good commission. But did it require being bodyslammed by a burst of light and then several days of blindness lived among Jewish strangers? It did. Why? Mark’s gospel is elegant in its simplicity and lack of subtly. Paul, like the other disciples and like ourselves, is charged with preaching the Good News. Whoever believes and is baptized is saved. Whoever refuses to believe or to be baptized is condemned.

At this point in the Christian narrative, this is not a happy-clappy message best delivered by recently scrubbed professors of theology or neatly styled media pastors. The weight of this choice is best delivered—in its stark, uncompromising simplicity—by someone who never believed it before but now, but because of a direct revelation from Christ himself, knows beyond the logic of language and speech that the Gospel message is terrifyingly true. Paul met the Message in the burst of light but he came to believe in Christ in his blindness. Blind, crippled, dependent on strangers for his daily care, and newly commissioned to abandon everything, everything he has ever known to the good, true, and beautiful, Paul sees with new eyes, stronger eyes and he is fortified against the lazy hearts and minds of those who would fall so easily back among their former ways, clouding the truth, burying the tough stuff under bushels of alien philosophies and favorites sin—all the foreign fruit that will rot too soon and soon enough.

All who heard him were astounded because he had been chosen from the world to go out, witness to the saving power of God, and bear through his witness the everlasting fruit of the Father’s Word.

23 January 2008

The ONLY Name Given. . .

The Goddess Rosary

I'm willing to bet next month's stipend that if research like this were done on Catholics who practice various syncretistic forms of "Christian"/pagan spirituality (Gaia worship, Ennegram, Native American, ad nau) that we would discover similar kinds of emotional instability. . .

Do-It-Yourself Religions Cause More Harm Than Good

Meditation, crystal therapy, self-help books - think they’re making you happier? Think again. A Brisbane academic has found a strong link between new-age spirituality and poor mental health in young people.

Rosemary Aird examined a possible correlation between new forms of spirituality and mental health as part of her University of Queensland PhD studies.

After surveying more than 3700 Brisbane-based 21-year-olds, she found spirituality and self-focused religions may undermine a person’s mental health.

“I had a look at two different beliefs - one was a belief in God, associated with traditional religions, and the other was the newer belief in a spiritual or higher power other than God,” Dr Aird said.

The research found non-traditional belief was linked with higher rates of anxiety, depression, disturbed and suspicious ways of thinking and anti-social behaviour.

continue reading. . .

22 January 2008

Help us supplement suppl(e)mental!

A note on the Postmetaphysical theologies seminar and our seminar's blog, suppl(e)mental. . .

I received a request yesterday from a reader who wants to "tag along" with the seminar using the blog as his "classroom."

This sort of participation is not only welcomed but encouraged! Perhaps the most dramatic feature of contemporary Christian theology is its public nature. We "do theology" these days in public. . .as a public service.

Please read along, comment, argue, etc. as we make our way through these difficult readings.

My only caveat: I will not tolerate unprofessional language from anyone. Blog-style discourse is often rancorous and personal. I should know being guilty of it myself. Suppl(e)mental, however, is not a "red-meat" blog for theological fights. Keep it intelligent, clean, and truly inquisitive, and all will be well.


Fr. Philip, OP

Nothing beyond abortion...

Day of Penance for Abortion’s Violence Against Human Dignity (GIRM 373)
Isa 32.15-18 and Matt 5.1-12 (Votive Lectionary nos. 887 and 891)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

It doesn’t take long growing up on a farm to figure out the meaning of the gospel adage: you reap what you sow. We planted melon seeds and melons grew. We planted squash seeds and squash grew. Come harvest time we reaped melons and squash. The connection between planting seed and harvesting the fruit of the seed’s plant is almost too obvious to have a name. “Natural consequence” might work. Or perhaps something less philosophical like “biological process.” Regardless of what we decide to name the connection, the connection is significant not only for planning a useful garden—imagine planting spinach seeds and getting corn two months later!—but it is also significant for us as creatures who live and grow in the image and likeness of our Creator. The seed we sow in the private plots of our own hearts and the seed we sow in the public ground of the “Common Good” will grow to fruition for harvest and that harvest will make its way back to our plates. On this day of penance for abortion’s violations of human dignity, we must ask: are we eating our own condemnation?

We could spend most of today talking the coming financial disaster of Baby Boomer retirement and the lack of younger workers to pay into Social Security. We could talk about how the low birth-rate among the Boomers turned Gen-X into Generation-Narcissist, and Gen-Y into Generation-Entitlement. We could point out that the “freedom of choice” to procure legal abortions and the use of contraceptives have “freed” sex from its reproductive end and given us at least three generations of Americans that are at once obsessed with sex and neurotic about sex to the point of needing professional medical treatment. And we could spend some time talking about how legal abortion has functioned in our national moral calculus as an agent of human degradation, one focused tightly on racial minorities and the poor. This is where we are. Where are we going to be?

The Beatitudes teach us that there is a pattern to justice and peace that begins right where we are. Where we are always results in where we will be. Just look at the text. Blessed ARE they who mourn, for they WILL BE comforted. Blessed ARE the clean of heart, for they WILL see God. All the way through the teaching, Jesus makes the practical, moral connection between where we are with where we will be. Blessed are, blessed are, blessed are. . .will inherit, will be shown mercy, will be satisfied. This is the moral parallel to our sown seed/predictable harvest image.

Fortunately, as moral creatures, we are graced with intelligence and good sense. We are free to change where we are and therefore free to alter where we will be. Isaiah says it plainly, “Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security.” So long as we sow the seeds of narcissism, entitlement, self-righteousness, material convenience, and violence against children and the unborn, we can expect to harvest nothing less than an aggressive contempt for life, an aversion to sexual responsibility and care, and a culture so soaked through with death that it stinks up the heavens. So long as we deny the justice of the most basic human right—the right to live—to our future, we have no future. There is Nothing beyond narcissism; Nothing beyond entitlement; Nothing beyond violence but more violence. We will not be shown mercy; we will not be comforted; we will not be called children of God, nor, for that matter, will we see God.

Our ministry today is penance. And preaching. Who out there doesn’t know that Christ’s peace follows God’s justice? No desert will become an orchard and no orchard a forest if we cannot quench the conflagration that consumes our yet to be born future. There is no soil rich enough to produce a harvest without seed.

21 January 2008

Among the dead?

Mass for the Dead: V. P.
3.1-6, 9; Rom 6.3-4, 8-9; John 6.37-40
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas

Can we count ourselves among the foolish this morning, among those who might believe that our sister, V. is dead; can we count ourselves among those who might believe that her passing was an affliction, or that in going out & away from us she went to her utter destruction? Are we being foolish this morning to believe that dying is the last thing we do? For the just, death is never an affliction; death is never the last step to destruction. The just are in the hands of God—at peace—and for them, death is the final work of trust, their last adventure in faith. What they leave behind is the worming doubt, the nagging to despair, and the longing for rest at last. If we, those of us still here, look at V.’s death and see no more than affliction, destruction, punishment, we fail then to see God’s grace and mercy. How do we hope for more than we are if we are blind and deaf to the grace & mercy promised us after death?

Here is our hope! Listen to Paul teach the Romans: “Brothers and sisters: are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death. . .” The Good News is that we are all dead! To be baptized is to die with Christ. To die with Christ is to be buried with him. To be baptized, to die, and to be buried with Christ tells us just one truth: “…just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too might live in newness of life.” Newness of life. Not a new life. But our lives renewed. Paul writes, “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.” And because we were baptized with him, died with him, were buried with him, and raised up from the grave with him, death has no final power over us.

Are we among the foolish this morning, believing that our sister, V., is dead? V. has died. Her family and friends feel a painful want for her presence. They mourn; they miss her. But are they foolish in believing that she is dead? Jesus taught the crowds: “…this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life. . .” Though we may die, death has no final power over us; no power to hold us in the grave, no power to keep us scattered or entombed. The power that drives us, fills us with reasons to live now and forever is the hope of the resurrection and our lives eternal!

Though always here and ready to shout out its joy, HOPE will be quiet for a while—silent in honor, in sorrow. Taken aback a bit by grief, the work of mourning must be done. And there is no lagging in faith to cry, to want her back, to hear her when she speaks; there is nothing shameful in seeing her where she has always been. God will not flinch if you must know, “Why?” When we trust in Him, we know the truth; we abide with him in love, and His care is always with us.

Our sister, V., has died. Are we foolish enough to believe that she dead?

Post-Meta-Theo Requirements & Reading LIst

I've posted the Course Requirements for the Postmetaphysical theologies seminar over on suppl(e)mental.

The Reading Syllabus is up now!

The first student posts will be up Tuesday, Jan 29th.

20 January 2008

HOW do you know Christ?

2nd Sunday OT: Isa 49.3-6; 1 Cir 1.1-3; John 1.29-34
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Paul
, Dallas

[Mea culpa! I deleted this recording before I posted it. . .doh.]

John the Baptist, all the while running up and down the Jordan River baptizing folks for repentance in the name of Christ, freely admits upon seeing Jesus that he himself did not know Jesus! He says though that he does know one thing about Jesus; he says, “…the reason why I came baptizing with water was that [Jesus] might be made known to Israel.” This episode from John’s gospel occurs after John has baptized Jesus, so now John knows exactly who and what Jesus is. More than a herald of the coming of the Lord, John is now a witness to the Lord’s presence among us. He says, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. . .he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. . .he is the Son of God.” You may wonder why we are hearing about John the Baptist so soon after Christmas! He is the herald of Advent leading us to Christmas not a witness for Lent who leads us to Easter. We are hearing about the Baptist again so soon after Christmas b/c he makes a single confession of ignorance twice: “I did not know him. . .I did not know him. . .” You might say, here on the verge of Ash Wednesday and Lent, John the Baptist is showing us a way into the Lenten desert: do you know Christ?

There is no shame in confessing that you do not know Christ. You want to know Christ or you wouldn’t be here this morning. It’s likely that you know lots of facts about Christ. His first name: Jesus. His mom’s name: Mary. His dad: Joseph. You may know where he was born; where he lived and preached and taught; when and where he died. You may know all of the prophecies of his coming—Emmanuel, virgin mother, suffering servant, etc. And you may even know people who claim to know him well. But think for a moment about the difference between “knowing facts about Christ” and “knowing Christ.” Even John admits, “I did not know him. . .I did not know him. . .” But what John did know was that he was to baptize Jesus when he saw him so that all of Israel may be exposed to the unveiling of the Christ, the Son of God. How then do you know Christ? Factually or intimately?

I think this question makes Catholics a little nervous. It sounds very evangelical, very Protestant. The question seems to come with a whole bags full of sticky emotions, affective commitments, weepy testimonials, and a certain amount of religious theatre—you know, the preacher running around, shouting, waving his arms, urging people to stand and clap. This is the Protestant version of Catholic calisthenics (stand, bow, sit, kneel, stand, bow, etc). Anyway, let me assure you that our Protestant brothers and sisters have no monopoly on knowing Christ, nor do have they cornered the market on asking whether or we know Christ. This is a universal question for Christians, a catholic question, if you will. John the Baptist comes to the fullest possible knowledge of Christ when the Holy Spirit points him out at the Jordan and says (more or less): “That’s him. Baptize him!” You and I need to hear the question and struggle with an answer because we are packing our things and looking toward the Lenten desert—that time we set aside during the year to face the Devil’s temptations with Christ. Frankly, I want to know who’s with me when I face down the thousands of temptations that peck at me all year!

So, back to the question: do you know Christ? If so, how so? I don’t mean here “by what means do you know Christ;” I mean, what is the quality of your knowledge? Casually, formally, ritually, liturgically, morally, or perhaps, not at all. With regard to the means of knowing Christ, most of what we know we know from scripture, tradition, the magisterium. We are gifted with reason so that we may deduce certain knowledge. We can ask our clergy, our family, our friends. They can tell us some things we may not yet know. Bits and pieces that can be shared with words or gestures, or gifts. We can watch documentaries on A&E or read a library full of books. But finally, ultimately we have to know to what degree of intimacy, to what depth and breadth do we know him? This is a matter of our salvation b/c we were baptized with him in the Jordan. We were with him preaching, healing, feeding, suffering, and dying. We were with him on the cross and in the tomb. He rose up from the grave, leaving us his Holy Spirit, so that—yes absolutely—we will be with him again, rising to the Father! How do you know Christ?

Listen one more time to how Paul addresses the Corinthians in the first letter to them: “…to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” Did you catch that? To you who have been sanctified in Christ and “called to be holy…” The depth and breadth of our knowledge of Christ is best measured in our holiness. Our holiness. Not our piety. Not our morality. Not our adherence to the law. But in our holiness. We have the question “do you know Christ?” before us. Another way to ask the same question is this: are you holy? YIKES! What does that mean? Am I holy? Well, you might say, I love my family and friends. I go to Mass, confession, holy days of obligation. I’m pious. I’m moral. I obey the law. I’m a good person, generally speaking. But holy? Yes, are you holy? Here’s your Lenten job, brothers and sisters: become holy. If you are already holy, then become holier. You are, we all are, as capable of becoming holy as we are of breathing, eating, sleeping. How so?

Listen to what the Lord said to Isaiah, “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are the people of his Word, the tribe of David, the royal priesthood of his temple, the prophets of his coming again. Listen again, “You are my servant, Bob, Sue, Jill, Charles, Jeff, Fr. Philip, Richard, you are my servants through whom I show my glory.” We know that only the Lord is good and holy. So the only way we may be good and holy is to show our Lord’s glory. The way Christ shows the Father’s glory. The way the Holy Spirit shows the Father’s glory. We must be a light to the nations so that the Lord’s salvation “may reach to the ends of the earth.” And we can do this precisely because we have been made holy in Christ Jesus and called to the life of the apostle in baptism. Please, be moral, pious, obedient, generous, but be and do all these to show the Lord’s glory. And show the Lord’s glory so that all may hear the call to holiness. That’s our job as members of the Body.

John did his job—baptizing with water for repentance—until the Holy Spirit called him to holiness in Christ. Then he baptized with Christ, showing everyone who came to him the sign of their calling: “Behold! Look there! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Is this what we are doing? This is how we grow in the holiness that Christ died to give us. As you get closer to Lent, that deserted trek across our temptations to disobedience, freely confess, “I do not know Christ.” Take it as a temptation if you want to confess, “I do know Christ!” Why a temptation? Because we are growing in holiness. A confession of ignorance is the humble means of knowing him better, more deeply; it is the surer means of coming to the surer knowledge that you are all at once planted, nurtured, pruned, cultivated, but not yet harvested. All of the possibilities for our growth in holiness lie in this one confession: “Here am I, Lord! I come to do your will!”