08 August 2009

Knowing nothing but the crucified Christ

Solemnity of Saint Dominic: 1 Cor 2.1-10; Luke 9.57-62
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

While “knowing nothing” and without the “sublimity of words or wisdom,” what does a preacher proclaim when he proclaims “the mystery of God”? And if this proclamation is preached out of “weakness and fear and trembling” without “persuasive words of wisdom,” from where does the demonstrative “spirit and power” of the preaching come? Paul writes to the church in Corinth, claiming that he preached to them so that their “faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. . .not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather,” he insists, “we speak God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden. . .” If contemporary Dominican preachers speak God's wisdom, without “sublimity of words” or the wisdom of this age, while “knowing nothing,” from where we do draw the “spirit and power” we need to prepare eyes and ears to see and hear His saving words and loving deeds? Paul, recklessly but not without hope, sets before us a demanding quest: to know nothing “except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” What does it take, what must we do to grow ignorant of this world's wisdom and flourish in God's?

While on a journey with his disciples, Jesus is approached three times by those who would join his traveling school of wisdom. Each time the prospective student would declare his intention to become a student of the Master. The first intended disciple says that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus replies, “. . .the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” The second is told “Follow me,” but he needs to bury his father before committing to the life of a preacher. The third says that he too wants to follow Jesus, but that he wants to say goodbye to his family first. Jesus, knowing what lies ahead for anyone who follows him, issues these potential preachers a warning: you may follow me wherever I go, but there is no place for rest, and if you follow, you must do so absolutely, without condition, doing nothing—not even burying the dead or saying farewell to family—putting nothing and no one before the preaching of the gospel. Let the dead bury the dead, never looking back at what you have left behind.

God's wisdom, revealed in Christ, and him crucified, is this: to follow Jesus as a preacher of the Good News is to abandon all attachments to the burdens of this world, to throw off the yoke of man's wisdom, and do nothing else but proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all nations. Paul could have said that he knows nothing except Jesus and leave it at that. Instead, he says that he knows nothing except Jesus. . .and him crucified, nailed hands and feet to his cross, abandoned to death. The vows we take as Dominican preachers are not meant simply to regulate belief and behavior, what we think and how we act. Our vows—even when imperfectly lived—are meant to make us into the sorts of men and women who are eager to seek out crucifixion, to run after Christ along his way to Golgotha, all the while proclaiming the Lord's mercy and love to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. Will you long to stop along the way to say farewell to family, or feel the obligation to bury your dead, or look over your shoulder to see what you have left behind? Of course. And not only will we long to cultivate and harvest these worldly attachments, we will do so, sometimes with great fanfare and expense. Thank God then that there is more than just one of us walking the path in this gospel adventure! Paul says that “we speak God's wisdom.” We use our strengths. We perfect our weaknesses. With Christ and one another, we live this reckless life of gospel preaching.

From where do we draw the “spirit and power” to proclaim God's marvelous deeds to all nations? Even as we empty ourselves out on the cross of Christ, we are filled with a purer sort of knowing: we are, whole and entire, the sons and daughters of a loving God, the Father of a preaching family, the only source of anything and everything we will ever need.

07 August 2009

Faith, Science, & the Contemporary Catholic

Faith, Science & the Contemporary Catholic
(A Retreat for the Dominican Laity of Dallas/Irving, TX)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP, PhD (retreat leader)


Saturday August 8, 2009
9.00am-3.30pm (three 45 min conferences w/meditation periods)
Mass & Morning Prayer
Breakfast & Lunch


St. Albert the Great Priory
3150 Vince Hagan St
Irving, TX 75062

Leave a comment if you are interested

All are welcomed to attend!

05 August 2009

Faulkner's Homeric epics?

A literary question/observation. . .

My American literature class finished up reading and discussing Wm. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying this afternoon.

I argued that the novel could be read as a sort of Homeric epic. I doubt this is original to me given the libraries stuffed full of Faulkner scholarship, but the idea struck me as worthy of mention to my students. We found a few Homeric moments along the way, including the whole notion of the misadventurous quest to Jefferson to bury Addie, the mother.

One scene in particularly got my Homeric attention. Addie Bundren's coffin is inside a barn. Her allegedly mentally unstable son, Darl, sets the barn on fire. Jewel, her son by Preacher Whitfield, races inside the barn to save his horse. He returns to rescue Addie in her coffin. Faulkner describes Jewel coming out of the barn "riding" the coffin like a horse. The scene is filled with heroics, swirling masses of sparks, and our hero is set alight in his nightshirt. The whole scene reminds me of the funeral games in Homer's epics. . .heroes, funeral pyres, horses, etc.


On Used Books & Thank You notes

A note on books received since mid-June. . .

I've rec'd a few books here in the U.S. since I left Rome on June 13th.

I am really good about sending Thank You notes. . .so, if you haven't rec'd one from me two possibilities for this come to mind:

1). I haven't rec'd the book yet.

2). I have rec'd your book, but it didn't come with a return address on the invoice.

Possibility #2 happens if you bought the book used and had the bookstore ship it to me. They rarely put the buyer's name and address on their invoices.

Also, used bookstores sometimes take three times as long to ship books. However, Used Book are perfectly fine with me. When I read a book for class or for research, I really use it--marginal notes, dog-eared pages, cracked spines, the works!

So, don't be afraid that I will think less of a Used Book. . .I welcome them as laborers from the fields!

P.S. A third possibility just occurred to me. . .you bought the book just before I left Rome and it was shipped to me there.

Coffee Cup Browsing...

Women religious in the U.S. have rec'd the Instrumentum laboris for their apostolic visitation. Note: this is NOT the doctrinal assessment of the CDF. Both the visitation and the assessment need to be wary of allowing the LCWR to conflate "being women religious" with "being feminists." The two are not identical. My guess is that 99% of women religious in the U.S. have no idea what the feminists who run the LCWR are doing in their name.

Occasionally--nay, rarely!--Shea gets it right. Even a stopped clock and all that. . .

Will Obamacare use your tax money to pay for abortions? Of course.

This happens to me all the time!

Highly disconcerting photoshopped pics of fathers and sons

Neurotic poets. . .but I repeat myself.

A moving, graphic representation of Italian bureaucracy. . .on a good day.

Several galleries of beautiful fractals

04 August 2009

Obama Book Bail Out fail...

Howdy, Readers!

My Obama Book Bail-Out check hasn't arrived yet! I filled out all 3,689 pages of paperwork, sent my cash "contribution" to ACORN and the Black Panthers, and signed the contract in blood, so what's the problem???

Anyway, browse the recently updated WISH LIST and help a friar fill out his dissertation library! [NB. Amazon has revamped the "look" of their Wish Lists. Still can't list books permanently in order of priority. . .]


Fr. Philip, OP

P.S. The BP has stabilized. Now I have to stop eating like an American before I end up as a screen shot on CNN for one those elitist lefty homilies about "The Obese."

03 August 2009

Some stuff from over there...

If you have ever wondered what the historical-critical method does to scripture, I commend to you this parody: "New Directions in Pooh Studies." It is frightening acccurate! (H/T: New Advent)

That Pustule of Warted Face-Follicles, Mark Shea, whines incessantly b/c HancAquam has outranked him. . .again! BAWAHAHAHA!

McBrien wails and gnashes over the CDF's doctrinal assessment of U.S. religious women. Note that all of the critiques of this assessment consistently fail to charitably summarize the reasons for the evaluation, preferring instead to couch the visitation in terms of "the evil hierarchy is trying to put the sisters back in their habits and into kitchen." There are perfectly good, debatable reasons for the assessment. Hint: the assessment is about rampant theological dissent on dogmatic and doctrinal issues, neo-pagan/Wiccan liturgies, feminist ideology, and outright scandal.

This is what happens when Citizens are made Wards of the State by the State for their own good. . .in this case, when the State is made your doctor. . .for your own good.

The so-called "Fairness Doctrine" in action. . .

Scary proof that Obama is the anti-Christ. . .not really. . .but the coincidences are fascinating. Remember: the anti-Christ is a spirit of rebellion not a person and as such flows through human history. Many different people have embodied the spirit of the anti-Christ. "Anti-Christ" means "against Christ" and describes a spiritual philosophy. It is not a proper name.

I think took the name of the game a little too far! :-)

Hey, can't say you were not warned. . .

Secularism: Kant's mistake?

from an article by Fr. Anthony Carroll, SJ on Fr. George Tyrrell, SJ's modernism:

Chief among the opponents of the medieval system of thought who would cause concern for the Church at the time of the modernist crisis was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant asserted that medieval and early modern thought had failed to question the appropriate limits of human reason and so had become tangled up in interminable confusions. His critical philosophy would famously deny the capacity of reason to come to know God, in order to make room for faith. For Kant, God could not be affirmed through our sensory perceptions but could be a postulate of practical reason that would ground our moral action.

Without intending to do so, Kant removed questions about God from modern philosophical discourse, creating what we now think of as "secularism"--the notion that religious belief is intensely (and only) private. From this we have inherited the false idea that religious belief has no proper role to play in public discourse.

Kant's insistence on locating the ground of our moral action in God was quickly undermined by British analytical moral philosophers (G.E. Moore, A.J. Ayer), leaving us with a purely emotive ethics: moral judgments are really just statements about emotional states and personal preferences, e.g. "Adultery is wrong" = "I don't like adultery."

Secular orthodoxy continues to affirm the purely emotive/personal nature of moral judgments, excluding from consideration any appeal to objective standards of ethical behavior. Thus we have the near hegemony of "personal autonomy" in medical ethics.

Carroll points out that transcendental Thomists (Tyrrell, Rahner) attempt to incorporate Kant's basic philosophical insights into traditional Catholic theology in an effort to retake the rational battleground for God. The success/failure of this project is still under debate.

02 August 2009

Losing your mind to Christ

18th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas

Have you ever lost your mind and wondered where you put it? Have you ever changed your mind and wondered if you are now another person? Ever have something on your mind and wondered if the weight of it was showing up on the bathroom scale? According to Plato, the human mind is a reflection of the Nous, the One Mind, corrupted by the body. Aristotle argued that the mind is that faculty of the soul that reasons. Aquinas and most of the scholastics propose that the mind apprehends reality as it is and understands that reality according to the nature of the divinely informed human intellect. Empiricists tell us that our minds are sensation collectors, blank slates that scoop up impressions from the world; Rationalists that the mind is best understood as a repository for those innate ideas that make it possible for us to think. Kant puts these two theories together and concludes that the mind orders sense experience using ideas that already exist in the mind. Most contemporary philosophers have more or less accepted that the mind is simply the work of the brain and that when we use “mind-terms” to describe mental activities and states (happiness, confusion, insight), we are really just talking about neuro-chemical activity in the brain. All of these theories tell us what the mind is; how it works with memory, perception, learning, and will; how we use it, and how we lose it. So when Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ...,” we much ask: have we learned Christ, or do we live as the Gentiles do in the “futility of their minds”?

By the third time I attempted college algebra—having dropped it twice out of abject fear—I concluded that my brain was not wired to comprehend the occult lore of math. To my mind, geometry is an ancient magical system for plotting an eternity of suffering. Calculus is a demonic wisdom that tricks us into giving our souls to the Devil. Confronted by the squiggly gibberish of numbers in formulas, my mind freezes in fear and then flees to poetry where nothing can hurt me, or make me hurt myself or others. I failed to learn math as a kid, and now, as an adult, I will not put on the mind of math because such a renovation project seems to me be utterly futile, hopelessly empty of promise or prize. So, along with all the number-challenged souls in the world I rejoice to hear Paul say, “...truth is in Jesus...” Alleluia! This truth is the one truth I do not fear. Though I seek this truth, there is some question about whether or not I have learned it. This is a judgment to be made at the conclusion of this world, the Mother of All Final Exams. I hope Professor Jesus allows us all a crib sheet!

Desperate to witness signs of wonder and learn the mysteries of salvation, crowds follow Jesus around throwing questions at him like paparazzi after Britney Spears. On occasion, Jesus obliges the crowds by healing the blind, the demonically possessed, and even the dead. He teaches his Father's mercy and calls all to repentance and a new way of living life toward a glorious end in heaven. He even demonstrates his command of math by multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for five thousand. Impressed but unfulfilled, the crowds demand more and wait on the next miracle to confirm their faith. Jesus tells them that they are asking him to teach the wrong lesson: “...you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” They are lead by the stomach not the mind; hunger-pains brings them to Christ not the pains of ignorance. Though the bread they eat fills the belly, it does not fill the soul. Therefore, Professor Jesus concludes, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life...”

What do you hunger for, thirst for? What do you need to see, to learn, to feel before you can say that you are filled-up, completely satisfied? If you were in one of those crowds following Jesus around, what one gift would you beg him for; what one question would you ask him? You might say, “I only desire to do the work of God!” Do you know what that work is for you? Have you read the job description for being a good Christian? Have you learned Jesus as your one truth, putting “away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and [been renewed] in the spirit of your minds”? If you have, then you have done the work of God. Jesus says, “ This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” First, believe; then think, feel, act, be always out of this belief in Christ and your life will be a sign to others that you have “put on the new self, [and have been] created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” You will be a sign of hope to all those who seek the truth that Christ is the truth they seek.

Though we have a long, long history of exploring the philosophical, scientific, and theological nature of the human mind, we do not need an empiricist or rationalist or materialist theory of consciousness in order to comprehend and live the mind of Christ. We do not need a clear and distinct idea about the structure of memory or perception, or a fulsome argument for the nature of thinking or the workings of emotion and will. If mind is simply the neuro-chemical activity of the brain, fine. Do your dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine belong to Christ? If mind is the rational faculty of the soul that allows us to abstract ideas from sense experience, fine. Does your reason belong to Christ? Do you see and hear and touch Christ first? And if mind is a reflection of the One Mind corrupted by the body, so be it. Are you receiving God's graces to perfect your body and elevate your mind? If not, Paul reminds you, “...you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” For Paul, the Gentile mind reaches for knowledge and understanding without first having grasped Christ. This is utterly futile because “truth is in Jesus.”

You might be the one in the crowd who yells out to Jesus, “OK! The truth is in you. What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” Jesus says to you, to all of us, “What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert...it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” You look to the sky. Glance around at the ground. Your stomach rumbles a bit. “Well, sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus smiles. This is the perfect set-up, the best of all segues. He takes the moment in hand, pauses just long enough to build an arc of anticipation, and then teaches the crowd, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Never hunger. Never thirst. First, believe; then think, feel, act, be always out of this belief in Christ and your life here and now will be a reflection of your promised life at the foot of the throne. You will be the only sign any of us will need to believe, the only miracle any of us will ask for.

Have you learned Christ? If so, then be Christ for us! If not, then let the Body and Blood you take this morning be your food and drink for the pilgrimage to heaven. Receive him as you would a rescuer come to take you from the wilderness. He will bring you to a far holier land.