22 November 2008


I've put the last three homilies on Pod-O-Matic. . .scroll down on the right until you find the Roman Homilies player. . .

More coming. . .

AND. . .Br. Thomas, OP heard your pleas and has now finished recording Dei verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) from the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Our Holy Father, BXVI argues that understanding Dei verbum is the key to understanding the whole Council--the intent, spirit, and all the documents!

The thesis thickens...and narrows...

As of yesterday, with the help of one of my former tutors from Blackfriars, Oxford, Dr. Bill Carroll, an expert in the theology and philosophy of creation and the religious world's conversation with science, I have narrowed the broad area of my thesis topic down a bit more.

I am pretty sure I will be focusing on how the medieval debates about the (a)temporality of creation could shed some much needed philosophical/theological light on contemporary cosmologies. The issue at hand is divine action in creation. How we understand God's interaction with creation has everything to do with how we understand time. What I may end up doing is simply showing what sort of interaction is possible given a particular view of time. . .

Fortunately, most of the primary medieval texts are in our library. Some of the secondary texts, however, will have to be bought, found, stolen, or smuggled to me! Most of the texts on contemporary cosmologies are brand new. Also, fortunately, the thesis is usually restricted in length from 50 to 75 pages. So, no worries.

Fr. Philip, OP

How should we respond?

I'm very interested to hear what HancAquam readers think about this "call to arms" video. I have a very definite opinion (imagine that!), but I would like to hear from others how they were or were not moved, persuaded, put-off, etc.

As I watched via Youtube supporters of legalized same-sex "marriage" attack supporters of traditional marriage out in California after the passage of Prop 8, I was struck by the raw hatred, violence, and near demonic intolerance of some in the gay community toward supporters of this amendment.

I'm not surprised that they were upset with the success of Prop 8; I am just shocked at how quickly and how completely the more radical elements of the community adopted the violently repressive tactics of street thugs.

I was also surprised and somewhat disappointed when conservative Catholic commentators called for these activists to be arrested for committing "hate crimes" against Christians. Now, this is a strategic question, a question about tactics: do Christians really want to use the rhetoric of "hate crimes" and then urge the state to patrol the speech of our political and spiritual enemies? It seems to me that if we do this, we concede the question of free speech to the forces of leftist politically correct fascism and admit that speech is that sort of thing that needs government regulation.

Please note here I am not talking about behavior--the assaults, the church-invasion,s the destruction of propery, the so-called "prank threats"--all need to be handled according to applicable law. I'm just not sure it is in our best interest as Christian citizens to use the brainless P.C. tactics of the Left against the Left. As satisfying as it is to watch these radical morons destroy what little credibility they had with the larger community, we risk setting a precedent for future persecution if we admit by surrender to the Left that the tactics of the Left are ours as well.

NB. Commenting: on a topic as controversial as the Church and sexual morality the passions get heated and folks write things they shouldn't. I'm going to protect you from your intemperance (yea, me!) by deleting comments that attack persons rather than arguments, that name-call, or appear to me to be "hit and run," that is, swoop in, drop a bomb, and run. And please show some intellectual integrity and avoid embarrassing yourself by dropping the 1980's canard about "you hate gays, so you must be gay." It's just dumb beyond all believing.

21 November 2008

Moving Peace? YES!

Pope pondering change to Mass liturgy

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A high-ranking Vatican official says Pope Benedict XVI is considering introducing a change to the Mass liturgy.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, who heads the Vatican office for sacraments, says the pope may move the placement of the sign of peace, where congregation members shake hands or hug.

Arinze told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in an interview published Friday that the pope has asked bishops to express their opinions and will then decide.

Under the change, the sign of peace, which now takes place moments before the reception of communion, would come earlier. Arinze said the change might help create a more solemn atmosphere as the faithful are preparing to receive communion.

Properly done I have no problem with the exchange of peace where it is now. However, the exchange is rarely, if ever, properly done. In my seminary days, we had a Dominican sister who came to the conventual Mass everyday. She took the exchange of peace as an opportunity to make lunch dates, ask for class notes, or just casually visit.

There was a friar--no longer with us--who went away to do his summer Clinical Pastoral Education and came back convinced that we were all body-hating celibates who needed to loosen up. He took the "kiss of peace" quite literally, laying big wet kisses right on the mouths of the nearest friars. Needless to say, he found himself without pew-neighbors very quickly.

Then we have all of the gymnastic contortionists, the Hugger-Back Slappers, the "V" for Peace throwers, and the "Party All the Time" marathon runners who sprint around the Church high-fiving everyone.

All of this jumping around, socializing, chit-chatting is disruptive to the solemnity of that moment in the Mass when we need to be most aware of both our unworthiness to receive the Lord and His grace in making us worthy to do so!

Moving the exchange of peace to either right after the rite of penance or the general intercessions makes the most sense. In the Episcopal Church, Rite II, you have the general intercessions, confession/absolution, and then the peace. The peace concludes the liturgy of the Word.

Expect a great deal of oppositon from "Spirit of Vatican Two" types. They like the peace where it is because by the end of the consecration prayer, folks are starting to get way too serious and way too focused on the Lord in the sacrament. Since they hold that the Lord is primarily (if not only) present in the assembly, they want to break up any potential lingering over the solemnity of communion and forcefully remind us that "community" is what communion is all about--thus, the need for a great deal of noise and motion and distraction right before taking communion. This is also the reason for singing during communion, standing rather than kneeling during and after communion, and rushing head-long into the closing prayer.

20 November 2008

A Parable about Booze, Pot & Condoms

Justin, a 16 year old Catholic high school junior, comes home from football practice one day and tells his dad that he finally asked Mary Kay out for a date on Saturday night. His father is very happy and gives his son $100 to spend on the date.

Saturday night comes and dad waits and waits and waits for Justin and Mary Kay to come home. Finally, around 1.00am Justin walks in the front door, drunk, smelling of pot, and his clothes in disarray.

Dad confronts Justin, "Son, what have you been doing?! You spent the $100 I gave you on booze, weed, and condoms?!" Justin, slurring his words and swaying rather dramatically said, "Not all of it. I gave $20 to a homeless man outside the liquor store. The rest went to the liquor store, my dealer, and the drug store."

Dad, a grant manager for the diocese's CCHD, responded, "Oh OK. That's good. You're off the hook then b/c you didn't spend the whole $100 on party favors. I can tell your mom that at least 20% of the money we gave you went for a good cause. Here's $200 for next time. Give the homeless guy $40."

Lesson: don't fall for the excuse: "Well, CCHD does some good with my donation so that mitigates any potential evil that might slip in."

Always remember this when dealing with questions of Doing Evil to Get Good Results: "You cannot draw a pail of pure water from a poisoned well."

17 November 2008

Curiosity is not enough

Dedication of SS. Peter and Paul: Rv 3:1-6, 14-22; Lk 19:1-10
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

There are any number of reasons that people will clamor to see the Lord as he passes by. There are the merely curious. Those who love a good crowd and the potential for entertainment that a crowd offers. There are the pitiable, those who seek the attention of the famous and infamous alike. Those who flock to celebrity hoping to become celebrities themselves. There are those who seek mystery, those who long for hidden knowledge and run after any and every teacher who comes to town. Some rush around looking for spectacular signs of prophecy, wondrous markers for the end of days, hoping to be better prepared just in case today or tomorrow is the day of judgment. And there are likely those in the crowd waiting for Jesus who are seduced by his promise of mercy, that is, like fish drawn to fresh bait, they are lured and hooked by the Word Jesus preaches. Despite their gross spiritual negligence—or perhaps because of it—because of their incessant wallowing in sin, they find themselves snatched from the disobedience of pride and begging at the feet of Christ for forgiveness. We have Zacchaeus, short in stature but hardly short on zeal. He is not clamoring to see Jesus out of a need for entertainment or out of mere curiosity. He knows his sin; he knows he needs forgiveness; and he knows that Christ is the font of the Father’s mercy. Do we? Do we know what this sinner knows?

We can easily make two simple mistakes reading this story from Luke. We can make the mistake the crowd makes and find ourselves outraged that a holy man like Jesus would defile himself by speaking and eating with a notorious sinner. The more contemporary mistake is to assume that since Jesus speaks and eats with this notorious sinner, he approves of the sinner’s sin. We think: Jesus is openly declaring that this sinner’s sins are not sins after all and that he, the sinner, is welcomed unrepentant to the Lord’s table. How many times have we heard about Jesus’ “radical hospitality,” that Jesus “never turned anyone away.” True. As far as it goes. But what makes this understanding of Christ’s radical hospitality a mistake is that it leaves unsaid the equally radical implication of accepting Christ’s hospitality. The story of the Chief Tax-collector of Jericho, Zacchaeus, is the story of what happens when we run to the opened-arms of the Lord: to run toward Christ with our sin is to run away from sin altogether.

Do we know this? Very likely. But do we climb trees, peering over the heads of our peers, hoping to catch a glimpse of the source of our forgiveness? How zealous are we in pursuing the need for repentance? Exactly how eager are we to throw our sins out there, have them examined by a judgmental crowd, and then embarrass ourselves by begging Christ for forgiveness? Have we grown luke-warm? Or do we have the zeal of a true sinner for mercy? Can we imitate this despicable tax-collector? This traitor?

Christ greets Zacchaeus with joy. Not because he rejoices in the tax-collector’s sin but because Zacchaeus comes to him despite his sin to have that sin washed away. Jesus announces to the crowd, pointing to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house. . .For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Zacchaeus was found but only because he knew that he was lost.

The pain of failure

33rd Sunday OT: Prv 31.10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thes 5.1-6; Mt 25.14-15, 19-21
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Never having been pregnant myself, it’s difficult for me to imagine how a pregnant woman might be surprised by her labor pains. Surely after nine months of bloating, vomiting, hormonal surges, that maternal glow, and the all-too-popular weight gain, she is more or less ready for the inevitable cramping and eventual spasms of birth. Oh sure, the exact moment—day, hour, minute—might be a surprise. Who would put real money on that bet?! But that she will experience the pain of pushing out a wet, screaming human watermelon really can’t come as much of a last minute shocker. All the more unusual then is Paul’s metaphor for the surprise that Christians will experience when the Lord returns. He writes to the Thessalonians: “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. When people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape…” So, in what way will our surprise at the return of the Lord be like the suddenness of “labor pains upon a pregnant woman”? Though the pain of childbirth is dreaded, the reward of a child is anticipated with great joy. Our surprise at the return of the Lord will be both dread and joy, trepidation and elation: the long anticipated relief of our tensed waiting.

Paul tells us that our Lord will return like a thief in the night. He also tells us that our surprise will come like labor pains—hard, clenching, sweaty, but not entirely unexpected. It makes sense to say then that though the thief comes in the night, we have been expecting his arrival for some time, waiting for him to pop the lock of the backdoor, to lift the latch of the window and sneak in. We don’t know the day, the hour, the minute of his break-in, but we know that he will arrive, and we know that what he has come to steal has been his all along. At baptism we make ourselves the Lord’s debtors, owing all we are and all we have to him, everything held in trust until he returns to claim the principal with interest. What have you done with the Lord’s largesse? What have you done with all the Lord has given you? With who the Lord made you to be?

Jesus, ever the lover of a good parable, says to his disciples: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” The man gave talents to his servants according to their ability. Makes sense. Except that we have to ask: according to their ability to do what? This is the crux of the parable. Knowing his servants well, the man does not distribute his possessions uniformly, giving each servant the same number of talents. Rather, precisely because he knows the varying abilities of his servants, he distributes them equally; that is, he gives each the number of talents equal to the ability of each servant. The man is not foolish. He is not going to give those with little ability the chance to squander his talents on a grand scale. However, by giving them talents equal to their abilities, he is giving them the opportunity to show that they are worthy of more—an opportunity that they would not otherwise have.

Now, here’s the interesting part of the parable: by giving the servants talents equal to their abilities, the man is actually adding to their abilities. Presumably, without the responsibility of keeping the talents none of the servants would have the chance to move much beyond their given abilities. So, on top of their natural talents, the man adds some investment capital. He “invests” in each servant an excess of talents to supplement what they have received naturally. In theological terms, we can say that the man has used his grace to build on their natures, gifting them the chance and the tools necessary to grow well beyond their natural capacities.

What happens? The man returns and the servants line up for inspection. Who has taken advantage of their gift of talents? Jesus continues the parable: “The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.’” This servant, having received talents equal to his abilities, took his master’s principal investment and used it to double his worth. Any of the servants could have done the same. At all of them did. Why not? Out of fear that his master would simply take any interest he might accrue on the investment, one servant simply buried his talent. Out of fear that his work to improve his master’s gift would benefit his master alone, this servant refused to make good on his chance. He planted a dead seed, and not surprisingly, nothing grew. No growth, no harvest. No harvest, no feast. The fearful servant loses his talent to the more gifted servant and the master calls him wicked and lazy!

When our master returns—the night like a thief long expected—will you present him with his principal investment alone, or will you return to him his initial gift with interest? According to your ability you have been gifted with exactly those talents that you need to grow in holiness. You have been given everything you need to invest wisely and move beyond your natural abilities. But what is most important to remember is this: every step beyond your abilities, every level of increasing perfection that you reach is the result of our Lord’s initial investment in you—his gift of talents that equals your abilities. Upon his return he expects to receive a return on his investment. What will you present to him? Who will you present to him? Will you, like the “good and faithful servant,” show him double the talent? Or will you have to go dig up his gift and return it unused? How will you excuse yourself? To say that you had no idea when the master would return is true on its face. You cannot, however, claim that you did not know he was returning. Like the pregnant woman who knows the pain of childbirth is coming though not precisely when, you know the time of judgment is before us. Called to account for yourself, what will you say, “Sorry. But I knew you were just going to take it all back, so I did nothing”? Wicked and lazy, indeed!

Paul writes, “…brothers and sisters, [you] are not in darkness, for that day [of the Lord’s return] to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” Because we see clearly in the light of the Lord, we must take the gifts we are given, invest to the limits of our abilities, tend the growing fruits, and harvest the abundant graces that mature. Though we do not know the day and time of the Lord’s return, as his good and faithful servants, we must be ready always to account not only for our abilities but for wisely investing his gifts as well. The pain of childbirth is nothing compared to the pain of failing in this duty.

16 November 2008

One World, One Religion (or else...)

In the news recently are two global initiatives that faithful Catholics should be watching with critical vigilance :

The Charter for Compassion and the Earth Charter.

Both of these efforts are Utopian fantasies that will directly challenge the Church's autonomy in matters of religious freedom. The Earth Charter has been embraced by a number of Catholic religious communities (including Dominican sisters' congregations) as a suitable umbrella statement of social justice priorities. Even a summary glance at the Charter will reveal that many of the stated priorities and goals conflict with Church teaching and classical liberal democracy. In effect, the Charter is a constitution for global socialism, pantheistic dogma (global warming), and the pseudo-religious practices of the Church of Environmentalism (the sacrament of recycling).

There is almost no chance that either charter will be adopted as international law. That's not the real danger. The real danger comes in the subtle influence each could have in shaping the minds and attitudes of young adults and children. Imagine the Earth Charter as it stands being used in elementary schools as a model of global ethics. Though many of the proposals are perfectly just and compatible with Church teaching, many directly conflict, advocating positions contrary to the faith. The language is very subtle in places and those not willing to take the time or make the effort to examine that language carefully will be duped.

The Charter for Compassion is in the works. The conceit of this document is that it will be drafted "by the people," i.e. those who choose to go to the website and contribute ideas. Ideally, this sounds like an egalitarian effort; however, one glance at the so-called "Council of Sages" and you see none other than professional Catholic dissident and Earth-Mother devotee Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB. Chittister is described on the Charter's website as "one of the Church's key visionary voices and spiritual leaders." The fix is in before global participation begins. No doubt the Charter will include ringing language about the integrity of human dignity and not one word about the evil of abortion.

The core problem for Catholics in both these efforts is that the uniqueness of the Church's authority to define her faith and advocate in the public square for her ideas will be labeled "exclusionary" or "narrow" or "partisan and sectarian." Enormous pressure will come to bear on the Church to submit her more "controversial" positions to the lowest common denominator of amorphous New Age gibberish that lauds diversity, difference, integrity, and global vision. Of course, all of these will be defined in practice so as to exclude any possibility of holding to objective moral norms and revealed truth. For example, a passage in the Earth Charter calls for the elimination of all discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation. There are already efforts underway in the E.U. to challenge the Church's teaching on the all-male priesthood, and non-discrimination against sexual orientation would undermine the Church's teaching on marriage.

One Catholic response to the Earth Charter. . .

Watch carefully. . .and pray!