05 December 2008


Please keep me in prayer this weekend. . .I received some news yesterday that has shaken me a bit. . .nothing tragic or earth-shattering. . .just some developments that might require some adjustments in plans.

These recent developments along with an interpersonal conflict, a difficulty with my medical insurance, a recurring temptation against my vows (no, not that), and a problem sleeping more than a few hours a night have left me scattered, testy, and open to more and more spiritual malaise.

In other words, business as usual. Pray hard.

[UPDATE: I just got a clear message from You Know Who that I am not capable of charitable discourse right now, so no posts this weekend. Not until I can get my act together.]

Angelicum dean responds to Blair inquiry

In response to my inquiry about the invitation to Cherie Blair to speak at the Angelicum, I received the following reply from Sr. Helen Alford, OP, dean of the school of social sciences:

Thanks for your message and your patience in waiting for a reply. As you can imagine, there is a lot going on at the moment.

Here's the bit I sent to EWTN this afternoon:

"Thank you for your interest in our conference. By inviting Mrs Blair, we, as a faculty of social sciences, are following the example of the Pope’s own social sciences institute, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, based in the Vatican itself. Mrs Blair was invited to make an address to its 2006 plenary assembly, which focused on children and young people. After her speech, as a spontaneous act of kindness, the Pope received Mrs Blair in a private audience, despite the fact that, as it was an unexpected invitation, she was not dressed in the protocol black. She was invited to speak in an academic capacity and was received by the Pope on that basis. Obviously, in doing so, neither the Vatican as a whole, nor the Pope personally, was in any way endorsing a pro-abortion point of view, and neither are we."

Here's the link to the Zenit article about this.

As you know from the conference programme, we have another main speaker, Janne Haaland Matlary, who has been a member of the Holy See delegations to various UN conferences with Mary Ann Glendon and others. She has been featured in Zenit on several occasions, including when she published her book on her conversion to Catholicism. You might be interested to know the abstract she sent me of her talk:

"JHM will address the importance of human rights for women at a time when they are discriminated against in severe terms in many places, in not being granted equality. She discusses how the UNHR of 1948 was quite revolutionary in establishing such equality, but also points out that fundamental human rights have become an instrument for Western feminism, imposed on the Third World. For instance, there is no human right to abortion, as there is no human right to have children. When human rights are used as political tools, also repressive states will be able to define rights as they wish."

There is also time for discussion and debate from the floor.

This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable explanation. I recommend it to you.

Father Elijah, Cardinal Newman, the Anti-Christ

When my eyes begin to blur and my head spin from reading too much philosophy & theology for the thesis, I turn to popular literature. Right now, I am reading Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. In one scene, Fr. Elijah is on retreat and trying to figure out how he will carry out the Holy Father's request that he approach the Anti-Christ and try to convert him. To help him with these discernment, Father turns to the Advent sermons of John Cardinal Newman on the anti-Christ. I found them on-line. Here's an excerpt from Sermon One:

Malignant principle of Antichrist is always at work

2. Now, in the next place, what is told us about Antichrist by the sacred writers? This first of all, as has been already noticed, that he embodies a certain spirit, which existed even in the days of the Apostles. "The mystery of iniquity doth already work." "Even now there are many Antichrists." And what that spirit is, St. John declares in a subsequent chapter. " Every spirit that confesseth not that JESUS CHRIST is come in the flesh, is not of GOD; and this is that spirit of the Antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world." Here we see what its doctrine is to be; but on that I shall not here enlarge. I am speaking of its working, which had begun in the days of the Apostles, and has doubtless continued ever since. Doubtless this malignant principle has been at work since from time to time, though kept under by him that "withholdeth." Nay, for what we know, at this very time there is a fierce struggle, the spirit of Antichrist attempting to rise, and the political power in those countries which are prophetically Roman, firm and vigorous in repressing it. What that spirit is, it would be beside my purpose here to attempt to ascertain, any more than to enlarge upon its doctrine; though certainly there is at this very time, as in the days of our fathers, a fierce and lawless principle every where at work,-a spirit of rebellion against GOD and man, which the powers of government in each country can barely keep under with their greatest efforts. Whether this which we witness be that spirit of Antichrist, which is one day to be let loose, this ambitious spirit, the parent of all heresy, schism, sedition, revolution, and war,-whether this be so or not, certainly the present framework of society and government, as far as it is the representative of Roman power, would seem to be that which withholdeth, and Antichrist is that which will rise when this restraint fails.

All four sermons are available at the link above.

Here's the text & podcast of my one of my "devilish" homilies. . ."With the Devil in the Desert " (1st Sunday of Lent 2006)

03 December 2008

More questions and a China story...

Random questions. . .

1). Tell me about your time in China.

Even though I was there for only five months, those five months could make a good-sized book. II finished my masters in English in May of 1989 and decided that the life of a student was getting to be frustrating and possibly even mentally damaging! Through a fellow grad student in my department, I arranged a teaching contract with the Chinese government to teach English, American literature, and literary theory. In the fall of 1990, I arrived in Changsha, Hunan to teach in the foreign language college of Changsha Institute, a university of about 55,000 students operated by the transportation department of the government. My contract stipulated that I would teach no more than five classes per term. That I would be paid in foreign exchange currency (FEC) and not the local "monolopy money." My salary was set at 1,300 Yuan a month. This was 13x's what an average worker made in year! That I would have access to a car and a driver when necessary. There were other items but these were the important ones for understanding why I left when I did. My room and board were free. I lived on-campus and ate my meals in the faculty dining room. Next door lived an older Swiss couple who spoke only French and Spanish.

The teaching was a HUGE challenge. First, the university broke its own contract by giving me nine classes with a total of 320 students. I taught everything from sophomore oral English to a graduate seminar in contemporary literary theory. I taught all "classes" of students, meaning first, second, and third class students--respectively, the future diplomats and party official,s the future college and secondary school teachers, and the tourist industry workers. My students ranged from "better than me in English grammar" to "can barely say hello and thank you in English." The third class students were herded into my classrooms, and I was expected to train them like seals to bark out polite English phrases. The first class students were the least interested in learning b/c their places in Chinese society were already fixed. The second class students were the brightest and most eager to learn. . .more so than even the grad students.

Outside the classroom, I was in demand to give public poetry readings, talks on American culture, music, politics; tell stories about growing up in the U.S.; even answer the occasional question on religion. At the time, I was an alienated Episcopalian and firm Marxist. I kept the Marxist label to myself b/c I would have lost credibility with the students. My social life was pretty dead. I was the only American, the only native English speaker in that part of the city (3.5 million in 1990). There was a large group of American undergraduates teaching at a middle school about 30 minutes away. On the weekends I was a welcomed guest. I made ten times the money these guys did and I had nothing to spend it one but food and beer. So, I was the sugardaddy for the weekend gatherings.

Problems began to arise almost immediately. First, the university was monitoring my every move. My mail arrived opened. My phone was tapped. I was followed off-campus. Books I checked out of the library were recorded. Visitors were registered before being allowed to come on-campus. Second, the university would not pay me in FEC. I got Chinese monopoly money instead. This meant that I could not exchange my outrageously high Chinese salary for dollars. Third, I was going crazy from lack of friends and regular social engagement. On a regular basis my students would disappear out of town. No warning to me. No word at all that I would be going a week without classes to teach. I would show up on a Monday morning and there would be no students. I would do this until they reappeared. So, I would go for days without seeing or speaking to another person. If the American undergrads would out of town or busy, I would go for several weeks. I had a Chinese university employee who was responsible for herding me around and he actually became a friend, but his superiors were constantly chiding him for spending too much time with me.

The final straw came in November when I called home and found out that my grandmother's surgery for cancer had failed and that she was dying. With everything going on in the university, without any emotional or spiritual support, without any way to stay in touch with my family, I couldn't imagine staying in China through my grandmother's death. I decided to leave. The university made an effort to keep me on, but there was nothing they could do about my family situation. I left on Dec. 1, 1990 and returned to Mississippi. My grandmother died in January 1991.

Looking back three things are pretty obvious to me now: 1) I was not emotionally mature enough at 26 to take on an overseas adventure that large, that foreign; 2) I was not spiritually strong enough to combat the forces allied against me in the guise of Marxist ideology and the frequent assaults of Protestant fundamentalism coming from some of the American "teachers" in the city; 3) my problems can run as fast as I can, and they have a better sense of direction. Interestingly enough, my name is on a list somewhere here in Rome as a friar with experience in China and a potential missionary for work in the PRC. Yea, not so sure about that. . .

2). Is the Catholic faith scriptural?

Of course. All of the teachings of the Church are based on scripture and none contradict it. However, it can't be said often enough that the Catholic faith is not a "religion of the book," but rather a living, breathing Church, the Body of Christ. Yes, of course, we take the bible seriously and look to scripture for the truths of the faith. But the Bible cannot interpret itself. It must be read, interpreted, and implemented in the real world. This is why Jesus gave us the church and gave the church the authority she needs to interpret and implement the teachings of scripture. When it comes to interpreting the Bible there are three choices: do your yourself, allow the church to do it for you, or do it with the Church as a member of the Body. The first choice is the Protestant way. The second is the cultist way. The third is the Catholic way. Be careful in discussions with non-Catholic Christians that you do not let me browbeat you into the "where is that in the Bible?" stick. If they try that, counter with: "Show me in the Bible where it says that that has to be in the Bible in order for me to believe it." The Catholic Church does not see the Bible as the sole means of divine revelation. There are three means--scripture, creation, Jesus Christ (the two natured person & his Body, the Church) and one source--God Himself. However, if for whatever reason you feel compelled to argue scripture with your Protestant friends, here's a great website to help you: Scripture Catholic. Just keep in mind: as Catholics we do not need scriptural proof-texts for our beliefs; so, the charge--"that's not in the Bible"--is really no big deal for us.

3). What do you think of Obama's cabinet picks?

Ugh. Politics again. Very briefly: I've said before on this blog that I believe Obama is a liberal Democrat, a typical politician. Nothing special as someone who runs and wins public office. That he is black and the first black to become President is a wonderful historical moment, but as a public servant, he's just a politician. His cabinet picks prove this. He appealed to the extreme left-wing of his party. Won the election. Now he is moving swiftly to the center. Predictable. Absolutely nothing surprising here. I think he's going to focus on the economy b/c his eyes are already scanning the deck of the 2012 re-election campaign. As long as the economy is bad, he will keep the SanFran/NYC liberals and their agendas at bay. He needs a Democrat Congress in 2010, and he know he will not get that if his main concerns become same-sex marriage and expanding abortion rights. So, let's see. I'm watching to see how he treats the Church when it comes to issues like publicly funded abortions and Catholic hospitals.

Also, I am waiting, no doubt in vain, for the MSM to start doing its job and providing the voting public with unbiased information about the Obama administration and its policies. All I'm seeing right now is talk show fluff, sycophantic doodling, celebrity-esque panting, and the very, very rare, "Hey, wait a minute. . .didn't he say something about change at one point?" Not enough. Not by far. With his leadership inexperience and his history of fraternizing with domestic terrorists and radicals, every decision he makes needs to be scrutinized in public with a microscope. I just wished we had a media willing and able to do this.

Rec's for pipe tobacco?

While we're on hats. . .any suggestions on a good pipe tobacco?

Something smooth, sweet that won't smell like burning trash. . .?

Arrivals & Haircuts (UPDATED)

More books have arrived. . .

Rachael K. (1), Jana (2), Paul & Mary H. (1), Bobby B. (1).

If I understand the way the post works here in the priory, the friar in charge of mailing letters, etc. takes them to work with him at Vatican Radio and mails them from the post office there. So, your Thank You notes may have the new Pope stamps and Vatican cancellations on them!

I am also looking forward to the arrival of some electric clippers from the U.S. With them I can buzz my own hair and spend the barber portion of my academic budget on books! WooHoo!

Speaking of short hair. . .I think I may end up needing a hat of some sort. Though I am rarely cold, it's possible that I could get sunburned. What kind of hat should I get?

[Update: It's strange. A couple of months ago, I posted a shortish piece on prayer and a much longer piece on religious life "behind the scenes." Both of those pieces got about five comments combined. Now, I have 21 comments about what kind of hat I should be wearing. You people are freaky! :-) ]

02 December 2008

Fr. Philip's Vocation Story

I was born a poor white child. . .in rural Mississippi. Sorry, couldn't resist. Nonetheless, it's true.

Both sides of my family are Mississippi delta cotton farmers. Though no one farms now, both of my grandfathers planted cotton. My mother and all of her sisters "chopped cotton." My dad drove a tractor. All of them went to church. My mother's family went to the Baptist Church and my dad's family went to the Methodist Church.

My first memory of church goes back to the sixth grade when my mom and dad sent me and my little brother to Vacation Bible School. Mostly I remember being the only kid that week who had not "accepted Jesus into his heart as his personal Lord and savior." Come Friday, feeling the pressure, I walked the aisle, said the necessary things, and walked back to my pew complete with Jesus. It didn't take.

For the most part my family back then was not a church-going bunch. We went occasionally, but mostly we spent Sundays working in the gardens, the yards, doing necessary work around the house and farm. Sometime my sophomore year, mom and dad decided to start going to church again. They chose a United Methodist Church in the largest town near us. It was the local "bankers' and doctors'" church. Lots of old money. Lots of nice cars. Lots of snooty glances at the rubes from the woods. I hated it. We stopped going after about six months.

That next year I went to Mexico with my junior Spanish class. We cut and sold firewood from my family's property to pay for the trip. Our teacher, a Catholic woman, helped us with the hard labor and with our Spanish. Up until we got to the National Cathedral and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the trip had been a bust for me. My roommates were jerks. I didn't have much money. And my Spanish was rotten. When we arrived at the plaza in front of the cathedral, one of a hundred tour buses packed full of tourists, I stood up and started to the front of the bus like a robot. One more stop, one more site, snap a pic, get back on the cool bus. Little did I know. . .

The second I stepped off the bus, even before my foot hit the pavement, I notices crowds of older women in black on their knees slowly making their way to the shrine. They were praying with these necklaces in their hands. I turned to my teacher and asked what was going on. While she formulated an answer I was horrified to see that these women had bloodied their knees crawling on the gravel and pavement. What kind of religion was this?! My teacher said something about devotion and praying for sons in the drug world and some other things about Mary. I didn't really hear it all.

When we got inside the cathedral, I was overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity and comfort. Just this energetic boost of being home and welcomed. There was a Mass going on. I pestered my teacher for details. She explained what she could. She showed me how to make the sign of cross using holy water. How to kneel. She told me the names of all the fantastical objects in the church--the crucifix, the statues of Mary and the saints, the fonts and confessionals and altars. I was overwhelmed. It was like someone was reminding me of things I had known all my life.

As I look back on that day what I know now is that God trapped me with the sacramental imagination. He was showing me His presence in all the things of this sacred place. I "recognized" them as holy, as set-aside, because without having the words to articulate the feeling, I felt holy as well, loved, wanted. With this feeling still rattling around inside, we walked over to the newly opened Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I knew nothing about this. Nothing at all. The story, once I heard it, didn't impress me all that much. Sounded kinda far-fetched to me. The new basilica was ugly. Stark, angular, modern, cold. Nothing like the near primitive wonder of the cathedral. We saw the relic. Big deal. Move on.

With the vision of the bloody old ladies still in my head and the incense still in my nose. And maybe even a bead or two of holy water still clinging to my forehead, I got back on the bus and started in on my teacher. I pestered her some more about why she was Catholic and where I could get more information and could I come to Mass at her Church and did her Church have classes for people who wanted to be Catholics and on and on and on. . .she good-naturedly answered my questions.

We drove over the mountains to a village called Taxco. A silver mining town for tourists. Our hotel perched on the side of the mountain and my room had a balcony looking out over the valley. At midnight the local set off a stream of fireworks. I went to the balcony. It was very breezy and cold for a Mexican March night. Just standing there alone watching the fireworks I had this sudden sense that everything around me was rushing toward me, almost as if I were falling standing straight up. For just a few seconds I didn't hear anything. Going back to bed, I prayed--something I never did!--and simply asked God to tell me what to do.

I woke up the next morning convinced I should be a priest. After that I started having dreams.

I was vested in red and saying Mass in my high school auditorium.
I was teaching a class and a man called me out of the classroom to say Mass.
I was standing in a sacristy and couldn't find the right vestments.
I was in the middle of saying Mass and the sacramentary was all wrong, misprinted. . .

Eventually, I told my grandmother. She gave me a cigar box full of Catholic paraphernalia: a rosary, prayer cards, a small crucifix, and a "question and answer" catechism, which never left my side. I took it to school and embarrassed myself arguing with the Baptists. Even my teachers got in on the arguments! The stuff in that box became a tangible link for me to the Church.

When my parents found out that I wanted to be a priest, they were a little upset. They put up some resistance at first but eventually gave way. By this time I had gone off to college and joined the Episcopal Church. Why the Episcopal Church and not the Catholic? The E.C. in my college town was an old-fashioned brick building built in the 1830's. Stained glass. Brass fixtures. Beautiful hangings. The priests there wore their clerics. The music was thundering, beautifully sung. The services were "churchy." The Catholic Church in town was easily confused with a dentist office. Built in the late 70's, it was a box with those 7-11 glass doors and the whole "stripped bare" vibe. No statues. No tabernacle. No stained glass. No nothing that identified this building as a Catholic Church. The services were informal to the point of being just slightly more organized than a Baptist picnic. The music was folksy guitar, hand-clapping, tamborine banging. The priest wore ugly, ugly, ugly vestments. There was absolutely nothing solemn, nothing transcendent, nothing attractive about any of it. The choice to become Episcopalian was too easy.

I was baptized in the E.C. in 1982 and confirmed later that year. I immediately went to the rector and told him that I wanted to be an Episcoplian priest. I was 18. He told me to finish my undergrad studies, think about getting a masters, and come back when I was around 24 to discuss the whole thing again. 24?! That was middle-aged!! Anyway, I became very active in my parish. After a few years and well into grad school, I had a falling out with the rector. Being a good Protestant, I stopped going to church in protest. In the meantime, all sorts of ideologies, practices, philosophies, and personalities were drawing my attention.

Since the E.C. offered almost nothing in the way of solid teaching on moral deliberation or anything in the way of substantial intellectual formation, I fell prey to one dubious theology after another. Finally, in my last year of PhD studies, I was convinced that God did not exist. Despite this, I was convinced by a British prof teaching in my department that I should move to the U.K. and become a "red priest," that is, an Anglican priest who rejects theism but works in the church for "social justice" using Marxist/socialist categories as guides.

I decided to take a year out and teach English in China. That was a disaster. However, I came back to the States rededicated to my vocation to become an Episcopal priest. I started the formal discernment process in my diocese--a two year procedural grind that worked to discourage many people by its sheer complexity and futility. I served as the guinea pig postulant for my parish "discernment committee." The whole thing was a farce. At the time, I submitted to it out of a sense of wanting to collaborate and a sense that the Spirit would work through the committee to help me discern my vocation.

The details of the process would be book-length so I'll have to summarize: I spent two years meeting nearly weekly with nine lay people from the parish who asked the same questions over and over again. . .eventually they sent a positive recommendation to the vestry of the parish who then met with me to ask me the same questions over and over again. On the night of the vestry vote on whether or not to send my application to the bishop, every single member of the vestry looked me in the eye and told me that I had his/her support and vote. I went home confirmed in my vocation and ready to start seminary. At around 11.30pm, the rector called to tell me that the vestry had rejected my application. The reason: I had the stuff for making a good priest but just not yet mature enough. I was 28 at the time. The rector could not tell me why those voting against my application had lied to me earlier.

This rejection sent me into an anti-religious tailspin. It was during this time that I pursued my interests in the occult and became more and more enamored with Marxism. I spent two years finishing up doctoral coursework and preparing for comprehensive exams. After passing my orals, the prospectus defense, and suffering through several personal traumas, I left the academic world for a job in the psychiatric world. Once in place in my new home, I begain to pursue the priesthood again. This time in another diocese with another parish. At the urging of my parish priest, a woman from Mississippi, I took on a Catholic spiritual director, a Paulist priest in a local parish. Over a year with him I found my Catholic vocation again.

On the national scene, the E.C. was committing suicide with one disastrous lurch away from the historic faith after another. Finally, in 1995, I had had enough and left the E.C. to become a Catholic. I joined the RCC as a liberal High Church Episcopalian, meaning I was formally a Catholic but my theology and church politics were modernist and my liturgical tastes were medieval. I still didn't care for the informal, hippie-dippie Catholic liturgy, but the friendliness and community that the RCC had compared very favorably the chill I felt in the cliquey country club world of the EC.

Once confirmed, I immediately started the process for joining the Paulists. I spent two years in discernment with these guys. On the advice of the vocations director, I quit my excellent job at the hospital and moved home to spend the summer before entering seminary with my parents. I got a job in a local psych hospital and basically spent my free time getting "caught up" on all things Catholic and Paulist. In June of 1998, I came home from work and my mom told me that the Fr. John, the Paulist vocations director, has called and wanted me to call him back. I did. He told me that the president of the Paulists had rejected my application for admission. Fr. John would not tell me why. He said, "They're afraid you will sue us." Apparently, Fr. John should not have encouraged me to quit my job before the final decision about my application was made!

I was devastated. My mom wanted me to drop the whole idea of priesthood. I agreed. I walked around the house that day, saying over and over again, "What am I going to do?" My mom kept crying and telling me to just forget the priesthood, get a job, get an apartment, and be happy doing that. In the meantime, I was injured at work and got a staph infection in the injured site (first lumbar disc). I spent the next seven months in agony--both physical and mental, trying to deal with doctors, hospitals, insurance people. It was during that period of pain, dependence, helplessness, and rebellion that I finally found my niche. Accidently.

I was browsing an internet site that had an alphabetic listing of links to the websites of men's religious orders. Most of them I had never heard of. I spotted one that intrigued me "Discalced Carmelites." As I went to click on the link, I accidently clicked on the link for "Dominicans." I was taken to the order's main webpage and it took me all of three minutes to find the US provinces and the southern province. I contacted the vocation director via email and the next day he called to chat with me for two hours. About a week later he came from New Orleans to my parents' house in Mississippi to interview me. We spent six hours together. He offered me an application at the end of the meeting.

What was special about this discernment? Over the years I've complicated the whole affair into something it isn't. For me, the simple truth is this: the Dominicans wanted me. The Episcopalians didn't want me. The Paulist rejected me. The Dominicans wanted me, and they promised to make use of my gifts. I was accepted into the 1999-2000 novitiate class. My acceptance was contingent on my finishing the PhD before July 1999. I wrote furiously from Feb to July, finishing a first draft by the time my plane left. I graduated with the PhD in May of 2000. I was simply professed in 2000; solemnly professed in 2003; ordained deacon in 2004 and priest in 2005.

Smooth sailing the whole way, you ask. Ohhhhh, no. The novitiate was very hard. My studium years were extremely difficult. I made the move from being an ideological Marixist with religious pretensions to being an orthodox Catholic. The move has not been applauded by all of my brothers and sisters in the Order. Sometimes, I get the impression that there is some "buyer's remorse" about accepting my application! However, I have found many brothers and sisters in the Order (from the whole theological spectrum) who share St Dominic's zeal for preaching the gospel and witnessing to the power of God's mercy.

Plans? The phrase "Dominican plans" is an oxymoron. Of course, we plan. But I've rarely seen these plans actually pan out. If I could simply chose my path I would continue teaching undergraduate philosophy, theology, and literature. I am developing a course that brings all three fields together. The University of Dallas is developing a creative writing program that I would probably be willing to hurt someone to join. The Angelicum has a Templeton Foundation grant for a project called "Science, Theology, and the Ontological Quest." The grant brings in scientists, philosophers, and theologians to teach and research on the intersections of science and faith. I'd love to be a part of this. I am also dedicated to adult lay formation at the level of teaching basic theological/philosophical methods. However, preaching, as always, remains primary and any and all of this stuff I've mentioned here is directed solely to the improvement of the preaching. Without that, there is no reason at all for me to be here.

Fr. Philip, OP

P.S. I almost completely forgot to mention what happened with my high school Spanish teacher, Mrs. Mary Eddy! I went home to visit my parents right after I got back from Oxford in 2004. I had been ordained a deacon at Blackfriars and was preparing to move to Houston, TX for my internship. I went to Mass at the local parish, which had moved to a newer building. I went in clerics to the 9am Mass. When I got there I asked around for Mrs. Eddy. It didn't take long before she came running up to me to say hello! She was very surprised to see me and more surprised to me in clerics. She told everyone that she was responsible for bringing me into the Church. Yup, I'd say she was. Goes to show you what just a little encouragement for a young man with a vocation can do. . .right?

Cherie Blair invited to the Angelicum

LifeSite News is reporting:

ROME, December, 3, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – One of the most important institutions of higher learning in the Catholic world will host Cherie Blair, the adamantly pro-abortion wife of former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, later this month. The Social Sciences faculty of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome [where I am currently living and studying], known popularly as the Angelicum, is hosting Mrs. Blair at a conference on women’s rights on December 12.

I've received email about this asking for more information. I really don't know anything about it. I sent an email to the dean of the social sciences faculty, Sr. Helen Alford, OP, asking for a little clarification. Let's see what happens.

You can read the website for the conference here. Be sure to check out the "Links" button. I am hoping that the organizations linked in this list are linked for informational purposes only. If they are being endorsed, this is a problem.

Being a signal to the nations

First Week of Advent (T): Is 11.1-10; Luke 10.21-24
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

For generations, prophets and kings failed to see and to hear. Though they waited faithfully, straining their eyes and ears against darkness and silence, they saw nothing; they heard nothing. In their anxious waiting they detected not one spark, not one whisper; yet, they waited. For whom did they wait? Isaiah tells God’s people that “on that day,” the day that their long patience will be rewarded; on that day, they will receive from the root of Jesse’s family tree, a sprout and then a blossom, and on that blooming sprout, a son, “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest. . .a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD.” This is the Son for whom they waited. And this is the Son we have seen and heard. Isaiah says, “On that day, the Gentiles shall seek out the root of Jesse…” That day, my fellow Gentiles, is today. Are you ready to see and hear the coming of the Lord?

Jesus, with his disciples, and in the middle of a crowd, lays claim to his inheritance as a prophesied son of Jesse. He says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” As the inheriting son, the heir of the Father, Jesus lays claim to his father’s kingdom. Not so unusual. What is unusual is the claim immediately after: “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” Now, this is a truly priceless heirloom to inherit—the gift of revealing the Father! And Jesus wastes no time in making use of this gift. In private, he turns to his disciples and says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” What do they see? The flesh and blood of Isaiah’s promise: the Spirit of wisdom, of counsel, of knowledge, and of strength, the Spirit of the Lord come among them as a man.

Are you ready to see and hear the coming of the Lord? The prophets and kings waited and waited only to end without seeing or hearing. Their efforts gave birth to a hope for the coming of the Messiah but their hopeful waiting bore them no Savior in their lifetime. It would be many generations later that a virgin girl would say yes to the Spirit and give birth to the Word Made Flesh, sending out to creation the very Word Who was spoken over the void, re-creating everything that is fallen, waking in everyone who is fallen that spark of the Father who seduces us back to His glory, so that we might live, against the defeat of death itself, a life everlasting, ever-blest, ever-joyous, a life that will be a signal to the nations that a justice and peace, the Father’s justice and peace, will rule.

Are you ready to wait on the Lord, all the while knowing that the Lord has come, is coming, and will come again? Are you ready to be a revelation of God to world, to one another? Are you ready to be a signal to the nations? You are given the Spirit of wisdom, strength, counsel, understanding, and the fear of the Lord, are you ready to greet him in the flesh? To offer him your life and work as a gift? To come to him like the kings of the east who saw and heard, who came to him, proclaiming him Lord and King? Are you ready? Are you ready?

30 November 2008

Archive: Christ the King & First Advent homilies

Since it looks like I will not finish this year's Christ the King homily anytime soon, here are the ones from the last two years and all three of my First Sunday of Advent homilies:

Who Is King of Your Heart? (2006)

Can a King Rule from a Cross?

Waiting and Waiting Well (2005)

Advent is Scary (2006)

Do Nothing Special for Advent

Are you ready? Are you sure?

First Sunday of Advent: Is 63.16-17, 19b; 64.2-7; 1 Cor 1.3-9; Mark 13.33-37
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter: the time right before the arrival of an much anticipated divine revelation, a time when we make ourselves ready to be shown what God has to show us. Both Advent and Lent—though in profoundly different ways—prod us into remembering that not everything we can know about God and His will for us is knowable through argument, experiment, and rational deliberation. Yes, we are naturally graced in His image and likeness with every means we need to fine-tune our understanding of how we come to know, to sharpen the edges of what we know, to apply artfully, scientifically, technically the knowledge that we grow and harvest. But like children with little experience in the world of big things and predatory dangers—too ready to jump, so eager to do it on our own—we have to be shown, we have to be led to the show; however, what we need to know most is too bright, too sharp, so beautifully detailed and wondrously simple that to know it as it is would shock our natural apprehension, our graced comprehension, searing all our gifts of reason and will like food stamp baloney flash-fried in a hot buttered skillet. What we need is immeasurable holiness, Wisdom Himself. What we need to know of Wisdom is shown to us by Wisdom Himself. And like any adventure, like any enlightening quest we must be ready, fully prepared, wholly poised and trigger tight, at attention right on the blade’s edge set to see and hear and taste what Wisdom will expose to us. The days of Advent are the razor’s edge of the Incarnation, the blade against the skin of not-knowing-just-yet who comes to save us.

Though we are a month away from the solemnity of the nativity of our Lord, someone has already died for Christmas; or rather, someone has been killed at the beginning of another consumerist orgy before Christmas morning arrives. A stocker at Wal-Mart in Long Island, NY was trampled to death by shoppers rushing into the store to buy bargains. Every item bought in that Wal-Mart that day is an accessory to murder. What do we need to say about those who trampled him? Those who watched? Those who continued to snatch up the bargains? What a way for us to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

In some ancient pagan city long before the coming of Christ, this kind of human sacrifice might have been the perfect start to a holiday season of feasting and gift-giving, a raucous frolic of wailing and blood while waiting for the coming of a god in the flesh. Today, it is a headline. A link on Drudge. One of those news-of-the-bizarre items that we click on in order to watch the vid from Youtube, and then, bored with the shaky camera work and the lack of decent sound, we move on to the gossip about best-dressed or the least desirable relocation spot or top ten tips for knowing if he’s cheating on you. This man’s death is a passing moment, like a shampoo bottle over the laser-eye of the UPC scanner at the place of his death.

What do we need to know? Ask the question this way: what have we forgotten? We have forgotten too much. We have forgotten this: “You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.” And we are afraid to ask this: “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” Why are we afraid to ask? Because we might hear this: “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” If this doesn’t freeze your blood, you aren’t paying attention. The Lord has something to show us. And we are not ready. What do we need to see? What does the Lord want to show us? Our guilt. Yes, our guilt. Do you think that showing us our guilt is unnecessary? Or maybe you think that showing us our guilt is somehow unloving or unforgiving or mean-spirited? Maybe it is. For now. But we need to see it nonetheless. Why? Because if we see our guilt, if we give a knowing nod to our guilt, we recognize that at our roots, from our deepest selves, we are good people. Have we forgotten this?

If so, Advent is here to remind us. What will you wait for this next month? The opportunity to break out the carols? The tree? The Santa Claus cut-out? Or will you wait to remember that you are a loved creature, wholly prepared and waiting, anxiously anticipating and sitting on the blade’s edge, poised to be shown your perfection? Think: who is coming? Who is it that comes in the name of the Lord to take flesh and bone in the womb of the Blessed Mother to be born and raised as a man and to live as a teacher of the truth of his Father’s mercy to his passion and to his death on the cross and his burial in a fresh tomb and his rising again from the grave? Who comes? For whom do you wait? You say, “I wait for the coming of the Lord!” Really? Do you? Do you really wait for the coming of the Lord? Or do you wait for the coming of Christmas? For the sales? The stampedes? The chaos?

For whom do you watch? We are children too small and too fragile to see and hear what comes. But we must. We must be ready. Having spent at least a month praying for the coming of the Lord, we must be wholly prepared, entirely ready to receive among us the Son in the flesh, our means of becoming all that we were created to be. Our waiting is not simply about doing a duty. Our waiting is about sharpening, polishing, shining, clearing out, and making ready—what?—our heart, our minds, our souls. Making room, creating space and time, shoving aside in order to pull in. He Who Comes to us is the Child of the Spirit of God, the flesh and bone of the Mother, the Word given hands and feet to walk and do among us. This is as much as we can see and hear and taste. And maybe not even this. Maybe with all the preparation, all the time before, all the time we have to make ready for the revelation, even so, even still, we are not wholly still, utterly set to take in, to absorb, to stand under the event—the coming of the Son in the flesh. Emmanuel. He is with us. Our God is with us. For our sake, He is returned.

Now what? Are you different? Have you changed? If not, why not? Why did you wait? Why did you bother? Is your God with you? If so, who are you? Who were you before; who are you now? If for you Advent is about Christmas, about Wal-Mart and the stuff under the tree, don’t bother. Guilt will mean nothing to you anyway. Long ago you accepted that you are bad person. If, however, you feel the guilt, you feel the separation from God, rejoice! Yes, rejoice! Because your guilt means that you have an inkling of He Who Waits with you, for you. You know you need to know him. And He knows that you want to. Advent is not a stepping stone to Christmas any more than Lent is leads naturally to Easter. Advent is that long space before that makes Christmas into a feast about Christ. Without that, without the waiting, Christ’s coming in the flesh is a predictable miracle, a practiced trick of magic and rehearsed belief.

Make ready. The pan is hot. The butter is melted. Are you ready to be fried?