31 May 2008

I never knew you...

9th Sunday OT: Deut 11.18, 26-28; Rom 3.21-25, 28; Matthew 7.21-27
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation (Vigil Mass)

Jesus says to all those who on the last day list for him all of their mighty deeds, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.” Terrifying. Jesus names as “evildoers” all of those who worked mighty deeds in his name but failed to bind in their hearts and minds and on their hands and heads the words of his Father: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Therefore, doers of deeds done in his name but not in accord with the will of the Father are evildoers, those whom the Son never knew. Imagine for a moment facing Christ on the last day and hearing him say to you, “I never knew you.” How do we insure then that Christ will know us on the last day?

Moses, using the threat and promise of a curse and a blessing, admonishes his people, “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.” With your eyes wide open and your ears finely tuned, what do you see and hear? Moses, knowing the hard hearts and harder heads of his people, exhorts us to make our own the wisdom of our God, placing His words at the very center of our being, making God’s words not only a sign of our faith and obedience but also wrapping them around each of our hands and letting them rest on your foreheads as bonds of blessing so that everything we do and think we do and think for His glory and acclaim. It is not enough merely to think on God’s glory nor is it enough to do good works. Everything we are—heart, soul, hands, and head—must be saturated through with the manifold wisdom of God, so that our obedience—our seeing and hearing and doing—will be directed toward a single end: proclaiming to every opened eye and every finely tuned ear the boundless and eternal glory of God! We believe in God and so we work for God. And we work for Him because we believe in Him.

Hear again what Moses says we do when we fail in this essential task: “…a curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, but turn aside from the way I ordain for you today, to follow other gods, whom you have not known.” When we fail to enthrone the Word of God in our hearts and souls and on your hands and heads, we chase after other gods, gods we do not know, gods that cannot know us. Moses is admonishing us to be obedient to the Lord, the One Whom we know! The God we know! And the God who knows us. Alien gods are not only foreign to our covenant with God but they are alien to our knowing—strange, unfamiliar—and because they are unknowable, they cannot help us, save us.

Let’s be clear: Moses is not exhorting us to pick a team or a party and remain always loyal. He is exhorting us to surrender to reality, to give ourselves wholly to the only God Who Is. To fail in this is to surrender to the imaginary, the fantasy of other gods. And this in itself is a curse. Fortunately for us, our God has made us to desire Him, created us to seek Him out and to be seduced by His love for us. And He has made it possible for us to find Him and to be reconciled to Him. Paul writes to the Romans: “[All] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…” In other words, because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross we are “set right” with God, made just by Christ, adopted into God’s family so that we might be saved. No work of ours accomplishes this; there is no number of good works that we might do in order to earn the initial gift of our potential salvation. Paul continues: “…we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” When we exercise the gift of trusting in God and in His works, we are prepared then to do what we must in order to be saved. And so, Moses admonishes us to bind our hearts, our souls, our hands and heads with the commandments of God so that we might find in Him enduring blessing and eternal life.

Let’s hear that again just to be sure: our faith—itself a gift from God—makes it possible for us to cooperate with God’s commandments so that we give ourselves, sacrifice ourselves to Him freely, unfettered by sin.

Jesus goes on to teach us, “Everyone who listens [obeys] to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” No rain or wind or quake will shake the foundations of house constructed on the rock of the God’s will. No pain or turmoil or doubt can threaten the integrity of a life built on hearing and doing the will of the Father in heaven. However, a house built on sand, a life constructed on the vagaries of human wisdom, human intelligence, human will will collapse and be completely ruined. It is not enough that we cry out “Lord, Lord!” It is not enough to manage an occasional good deed. It is not enough that we live and move through this gifted life as lukewarm but inactive believers, tepid but untrusting doers. The work we do in His name is good because He is Goodness. And we trust in His goodness because He made us to believe.

So, we go back to Moses, our father in faith and listen again, “Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.” Wrap yourself in the saving word and works of Christ so that everything you imagine, everything you do, so that everything you are is first and foremost an image, a deed, a being of the One Who made you to love Him. The psalmist sings, “In you, O Lord, I take refuge…in your justice rescue me…Be my rock of refuge…You are my rock and my fortress…Let your face shine upon your servant…Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the Lord!”

30 May 2008

Obedience is the path to freedom...

Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life recently issued a document titled, "The Service of Authority and Obedience" (Faciem tuam).

I found this paragraph particularly inspiring:

Obedience to God is the path of growth and, therefore, of freedom for the person because this obedience allows for the acceptance of a plan or a will different from one's own that not only does not deaden or lessen human dignity but is its basis. At the same time, freedom is also in itself a path of obedience, because it is in obeying the plan of the Father, in a childlike way, that the believer fulfils his or her freedom. It is clear that such obedience requires that persons recognize themselves as sons and daughters and enjoy being such, because only a son or a daughter can freely place him or herself in the hands of his or her Father, exactly like the Son, Jesus, who abandoned himself to the Father. Even if in his passion he gave himself up to Judas, to the high priests, to his torturers, to the hostile crowd, and to his crucifiers, he did so only because he was absolutely certain that everything found its meaning in complete fidelity to the plan of salvation willed by the Father, to whom, as St. Bernard reminds us, “it is not the death which was pleasing, but the will of the One who died of his own accord.”

What's wrong with us!

Most Sacred Heart: Isa 49.13-15; Eph 3.8-12; Matt 11.25-30
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

St. Paul was a Dominican. You don’t believe me? Listen again to his letter to the Ephesians: “To me…this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ…so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to principalities and authorities in the heavens.” Paul, the Dominican, is graced to preach Christ, the one who uniquely and finally reveals to us the Triune God, so that all of heaven and earth might come to know the wisdoms of our God “who created all things.” If there is a mission statement that we as preachers might swear to, a letterhead statement of purpose and will that we as preachers might memorize and recite, this is it! We preach Christ so that every creature might come to know the wisdom of God! It is perfectly reasonable to ask why such a thing—preaching Christ—might be something men and women of the 21st century would find necessary to do. We have therapists, philosophers, critics, scientists, academics, theologians, advice columnists, TV psychologists, radio personalities, actors, policy wonks, presidential candidates, mamas and sisters, brothers and first cousins, wikiepedia, Google, libraries, billboards, bumper stickers, facebook, workshop facilitators, professors, wingnuts on the street, protestors, activists, lobbyists, blogsites, tee-shirts, benefactors, billionaires, musicians, astrologers, soap opera stars, CNN, FoxNews, the Drudge Report, Znet, and every tongue capable of speech offering us wisdom, knowledge, information, and counsel. And yet, we insist on being preachers of Christ in the 21st century. What’s wrong with us?

Are we simply arrogant? Perhaps we are just too thick to read the signs of the times and in our gross stupidity too stubborn to submit to being possessed by the zeitgeist. Perhaps we are just too proud to allow the spirit of this age a place of honor in our hearts, a respected position in our minds. Why would it ever occur to us—the preachers that we are—that this age would need men and women ready, willing, and able to preach Christ so that the wisdoms of God might be known? Though the hearts and minds of this age would never confess their deeply rooted sense of abandonment, we hear daily, hourly Isaiah’s lament: “We have been forsaken, we have been forgotten!” With Isaiah we must say—without shame, guile, hesitation, or humor: No! No, we have not been forsaken. No, we have not been forgotten.

Is this age burdened by confusion, anxiety, isolation? Yes. Is this age weighed down by fruitless labor, reckless disobedience? Yes. Is this age careening toward self-destruction and chaos? Yes, but perhaps no more than any other. And so what if it is? With the armies of well-trained professionals and dedicated ministers of care, why should preachers of Christ be bothered? It is true that we share a bench on this sinking Boat. It is true that we live and breath next to those who despair even as they furiously row toward a safe shore. It is true that we must love…yes, even those who punch holes in the Boat and then cry for rescue. Why not then surrender them to the consequences of their reckless behavior and ours?

Because we are Dominicans—men and women graced to preach Christ so that the wisdoms of God might be known! Jesus proclaims, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” And Jesus—in his death and resurrection—has handed all these things over to his Church. It is our responsibility (though not ours exclusively!) to preach and teach what Christ himself preached and taught; namely, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him;” therefore, no one comes to the Father except through the Son by the workings of the Holy Spirit.

This age has not been forsaken. Or forgotten. However, this age is inexplicably prone to forsake and forget Christ’s own mission statement: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Dominicans—preachers of Christ for the salvation of the world—must stand up against the willful ease with which our age forsakes and forgets its Creator. How? Paul the Dominican is clear: “…we have boldness of speech and confidence of access [to God’s wisdom] through faith in [Christ].” And. . .Christ alone!

26 May 2008

May 26th: St Philip Neri

Today is the feast day of my patron saint, Philip Neri. Known as the "Second Apostle of Rome," he lived from 1515 to 1595. He was canonized in 1622 along with St. Therese of Avila and St. Ignatius of Loyola. Philip was notorious for assigning unusual penances to his somewhat haughty crowd of penitents. He was also a notorious prankster and funny-man, one to never tolerate pompous or self-righteous behavior from anyone--most especially clerics! Philip is also called "The Joyful Saint!" The cause of Philip's death was a heart grown too large for his chest.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Philip Neri:

In this catacomb, a few days before Pentecost in 1544, the well-known miracle of his heart took place. Bacci describes it thus: "While he was with the greatest earnestness asking of the Holy Ghost His gifts, there appeared to him a globe of fire, which entered into his mouth and lodged in his breast; and thereupon he was suddenly surprised with such a fire of love, that, unable to bear it, he threw himself on the ground, and, like one trying to cool himself, bared his breast to temper in some measure the flame which he felt. When he had remained so for sometime, and was a little recovered, he rose up full of unwonted joy, and immediately all his body began to shake with a violent tremour; and putting his hand to his bosom, he felt by the side of his heart, a swelling about as big as a man's fist, but neither then nor afterwards was it attended with the slightest pain or wound." The cause of this swelling was discovered by the doctors who examined his body after death. The saint's heart had been dilated under the sudden impulse of love, and in order that it might have sufficient room to move, two ribs had been broken, and curved in the form of an arch. From the time of the miracle till his death, his heart would palpitate violently whenever he performed any spiritual action.

Please pray for Philip's brothers, the Oratorians. And please pray for me that I might be more like Philip and less like me!

A video in honor of St Philip Neri: