15 August 2009

Simple Profession

Please pray for our brothers making simple profession this morning in Irving!
Friars Peter Damian Marie Harris, Tan Leo-Hyacinth Do, Joseph Dominic Velazquez,
and Joseph Marie Dussouy


On hooligans and cookies

Had a great time last night with MightyMom, Subvet, and the Hooligans--who were not all THAT hooliganish. . .exceedingly cute but not too hooliganish! I am still going to argue that two year olds are capable of absorbing sufficient nutrition through the skin while eating. That's the only explanation for why the Littlest Hooligan is still alive and thriving.

BTW, Subvet, just to let you know. . .most of the cookies made it back to the priory. . .most, well, OK. . .half. :-)

14 August 2009

What happens after we die?

Heather Barrett, OP attended the Lay Dominican retreat last Saturday. She writes to ask: "One question has occurred to me. One thing mentioned at the retreat is that human persons are body and soul, integrated. Which I understand. But it makes me wonder what happens to us when we die and the body and soul separate. Who are we when in that state of separation? Are we still 'ourselves'?"

My attempt at an answer. . .

Human persons are body/soul. The best way to understand "person" is "substantial relationship," that is, a relationship that defines a substance (what a thing is). Without This Body, I am not Philip. Without This Soul, I am not Philip. And unless This Body and This Soul are in a substantial relationship, I am not a person.

We define death as the separation of the soul from the body. The soul is immortal. The body is not. At death, I will cease to be a person. I will cease being Philip. According to Catholic teaching, Benedictus Deus, my soul will be immediately judged and accordingly disposed--heaven, hell, purgatory.

Now things get murky. What about the body that was once in substantial relationship with my soul, making me Philip? Well, that body undergoes the natural process of decomposition. And awaits its resurrection.

If we understand the resurrection of the body as a future historical event, something will happen that will transform that body into a suitable element for a renewal of the substantial relationship with my soul, and I will once again be a person. If we understand the resurrection of the body to be an event that is always, already occurring from all-eternity, then something else happens to the body, and I am me wherever I find myself "after" death.

Here's the problem: we tend to think of the resurrection of the body in terms of future conditionals b/c we are embodied souls while still living, meaning as physical beings we experience the world as a continuous sequence of events located in space and measured in duration by time. However, at death, we are no longer embodied souls, so we do not experience space-time at all. This could mean that what we call the resurrection of body is an immediate consequence of death.

But my body is still physically present in the grave. So, what does it mean to say that my body is resurrected at the moment of death? I have no idea. The Church points to Christ's transfiguration as his promise of what happens to us at death. It is entirely unclear to me what transfiguration means for us.

We talk about a future resurrection of the body b/c it makes the most sense to us as embodied souls, i.e. as rational animals that live in space-time. What immortal life after death and the resurrection looks like is a Mystery.

Hope that helps a little. . .

12 August 2009

Congress: "chaotic, rapacious, solipsistic"

My poor brain is leaking. . .

First, the NYT publishes an entire piece about the Catholic Church and never once mentions sexual scandal, or quotes a reliable dissident harpy like Richard McBrien or the roldex-ready media star, Tom Reese, SJ, or even hints that American Catholics disagree with the Pope on contraception or women "priests." Amazing enough, right?

Now, Salon's own Camile Paglia, that odd-ball liberal, has spanked B.O. for his health-care revolution and called on Madam "Let the Nazis Eat Cake" Pelosi to resign over her condemnation of the citizentry's free expression of legitimate political dissent.

I fully expect CNN and MSNBC to renounce their P.R. contracts with the White House and start reporting as real journalists again! Why not? Apparently, miracles are swirling all around us!

From Paglia:

[. . .] Except for that wily fox, David Axelrod, who could charm gold threads out of moonbeams, Obama seems to be surrounded by juvenile tinhorns, bumbling mediocrities and crass bully boys.

Case in point: the administration's grotesque mishandling of healthcare reform, one of the most vital issues facing the nation. Ever since Hillary Clinton's megalomaniacal annihilation of our last best chance at reform in 1993 (all of which was suppressed by the mainstream media when she was running for president), Democrats have been longing for that happy day when this issue would once again be front and center.

But who would have thought that the sober, deliberative Barack Obama would have nothing to propose but vague and slippery promises -- or that he would so easily cede the leadership clout of the executive branch to a chaotic, rapacious, solipsistic Congress? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom I used to admire for her smooth aplomb under pressure, has clearly gone off the deep end with her bizarre rants about legitimate town-hall protests by American citizens. She is doing grievous damage to the party and should immediately step down.

[. . .]

I just don't get it. Why the insane rush to pass a bill, any bill, in three weeks? And why such an abject failure by the Obama administration to present the issues to the public in a rational, detailed, informational way? The U.S. is gigantic; many of our states are bigger than whole European nations. The bureaucracy required to institute and manage a nationalized health system here would be Byzantine beyond belief and would vampirically absorb whatever savings Obama thinks could be made. And the transition period would be a nightmare of red tape and mammoth screw-ups, which we can ill afford with a faltering economy.

As with the massive boondoggle of the stimulus package, which Obama foolishly let Congress turn into a pork rut, too much has been attempted all at once; focused, targeted initiatives would, instead, have won wide public support. How is it possible that Democrats, through their own clumsiness and arrogance, have sabotaged healthcare reform yet again? Blaming obstructionist Republicans is nonsensical because Democrats control all three branches of government. It isn't conservative rumors or lies that are stopping healthcare legislation; it's the justifiable alarm of an electorate that has been cut out of the loop and is watching its representatives construct a tangled labyrinth for others but not for themselves. No, the airheads of Congress will keep their own plush healthcare plan -- it's the rest of us guinea pigs who will be thrown to the wolves.

Read the whole jaw-dropping article.

11 August 2009

Someone didn't get the anti-Catholic memo at NYT

From the otherwise despicable NYT, "New nuns and Priests Seen Opting for Tradition":

A new study of Roman Catholic nuns and priests in the United States shows that an aging, predominantly white generation is being succeeded by a smaller group of more racially and ethnically diverse recruits who are attracted to the religious orders that practice traditional prayer rituals and wear habits. [Yes, you read that correctly: the orders that have spent decades shoving their leftist versions of diversity, difference, and tolerance down the throat of the Church aren't attracting the majority of minority vocations. . .oh the irony!]

They are the generation defined by the Second Vatican Council, of the 1960s, which modernized the church and many of its religious orders [of course, VC2 did nothing of the sort]. Many nuns gave up their habits, moved out of convents, earned higher educational degrees and went to work in the professions and in community service [and some of them chose to become radical Earth-worshiping neo-pagan feminists]. The study confirms what has long been suspected: that these more modern religious orders are attracting the fewest new members.

[. . .]

“We’ve heard anecdotally that the youngest people coming to religious life are distinctive, and they really are,” said Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. “They’re more attracted to a traditional style of religious life, where there is community living, common prayer, having Mass together, praying the Liturgy of the Hours together. They are much more likely to say fidelity to the church is important to them. And they really are looking for communities where members wear habits.” [Of course! Who wants to spend the time, energy, and money joining a football team that refuses to wear football uniforms and never plays the game?]

Of the new priests and nuns who recently joined religious orders, two-thirds chose orders that wear a habit all the time or regularly during prayer or ministry, the study found. [This is all fine by me, so long as these new recruits understand that the habit will not magically transform them into holy people.]


This is a remarkably well-written article from the NYT. Not one snide remark from the writer. Not one lonely bellow from a dying dinosaur assuring us that the Spirit of Vatican Two will bring a "New Church" into being. Nothing really negative about the Church at all. . .not even a closing question about how many of these recruits will turn into child-molsters! Truly, truly remarkable.

The Road I hope we never travel

If you've not read Cormac McCarthy's The Road yet, do it! You might want to wait for a cold, cloudy day. . .or maybe not. My lit class starts discussion of this novel today. When I first read it two years ago I had no idea what to make of the form, the language, the message. . .it is at once lyrical, epic, post-apocalyptic, and down right tear-jerky. Now, that's hard to pull off in a 240 page novel!

The novel tells the story of a father and son traveling to a sea-shore in a post-apocalyptic world. Everything is dead but a few humans. . .and some of those are cannibals. The father is obsessed with survival and the son with remaining human. Therein lies the central but subtle conflict of the book.

Here's a sample paragraph.

The land was gullied and eroded and barren. The bones of dead creatures sprawled in the washes. Middens of anonymous trash. Farmhouses in the fields scoured of their paint and the clapboards spooned and sprung from the wallstuds. All of it shadowless and without feature. The road descended through a jungle of dead kudzu. A marsh where the dead reeds lay over the water. Beyond the edge of the fields the sullen haze hung over the earth and sky alike. By late afternoon it had begun to snow and they went on with the tarp over them and the wet snow hissing on the plastic.

Also, keep a dictionary handy. McCarthy is meriless with his arcane vocabulary.

While waiting on the miracle of caffeine. . .

Wandering around waiting for the Caffeine to Kick-in. . .

Like everyone else, I've been following the health-care "debate" on CNN and Fox. And, like most everyone else, I'm not exactly excited about the prospects of having our health insurance run by the same government that gave us $20,000 hammers and the IRS. My personal stake in the debate isn't all that clear b/c most religious participate in some form of health-care trust fund that negotiate fees with doctors and super-pharmacies like Medco. Essentially, we have a "self-pay" system. What B.O.'s plan would do to/for us is beyond me. Shawn Tully of CNNFortune has an interesting article posted entitled, "5 Key Freedoms You'll Lose in Health Care Reform." One thing that bothers me about the rhetoric on this issue is the way the phrase "health care reform" is used almost exclusively by the MSM as an equivalent for B.O.'s plan. You will hear from B.O. supporters that opponents of B.O.'s reforms are opponents of all reform. This is simply false. I keep thinking to myself: "We are the country that invented the A-bomb, the personal computer, the internet, etc. . .surely we are smart enough to reform health insurance w/o socializing health care!" I say, "UNLEASH the Dogs of Invention!" (Hmmmm. . . think the caffeine just kicked in. . .)


Quick insurance story. . .when I worked as the Team Leader of an adolescent psych hospital, I was frequently called "up front" to access teens for admission. When the admissions people handed me the paperwork, they stuck a sticky-note on the forms that indicated the family's insurance. This told me immediately what questions to ask. If the note indicated that the teen had private insurance provided by his/her parents' employer, the questions were fairly routine and the standards of admissions were very low. However, if the note indicated that the teen was covered under the public option provided by the state, admission was almost an impossibility. The potential patient had to be demonstrably suicidal and even then he/she would only be admitted for three day acute care. . .the very minimum sort of observation and med evaluation. Public option patients were prescribed older, less effective drugs b/c they were cheaper and rarely received more than one evaluation from the staff shrink. Even though we were all statist liberals on staff, we knew that public option insurance was not the way to go.


A couple of generous Book Benefactors sent me Pierre-Marie Emonet's three volume set on Aquinas' philosophy of being. I highly recommend these books. They are at once poetic, philosophically astute, and accessible. Having recently taught large sections of my Dominican brother's (in)famous Summa, I am reminded (again) that his contribution to Catholic philosophy, theology, and spirituality is beyond measure. Most Catholics would find the Summa to be plodding and overly rigid in style. It is. But it was meant to be textbook for first year grad students and it most definitely reads like one. Aquinas' literary talents are better displayed in his biblical ccommentaries and hymns. He was a medieval multi-tasking machine!


Other excellent books on Aquinas: Fr. Paul Philibert's English translation of Fr. M-D. Chenu's book, Aquinas and His Role in Theology; Fr. Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas, Spiritual Master; Fr. Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (this is essential reading for seminarians); Fr. Tom O'Meara, Thomas Aquinas, Theologian; and Fr. Jean-Pierre Torrell's two volume set, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Timothy McDermott's Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation is worth it for those who want to read Aquinas himself but find the standard translation too much to bear.


Down the rabbit-hole. . .several readers have written to ask me to comment on the controversy raging around B.O. birth certificate and the question of his nationality. Now, I love good conspiracy theories! They appeal to my literary love for the beauty of putting all the pieces together to form a coherent worldview. My distaste for B.O.'s policies is no secret. But the idea that he made it to the White House w/o someone uncovering his foreign nationality seems a bit too much to swallow. I find it almost impossible to believe that the Clintion Machine didn't find out about this and expose it. Of course, if B.O. wants to see an end to the speculation, all he has to do is disclose his birth certificate. You have to wonder why anyone would spend $900,000 in legal fees to keep a harmless birth certificate locked away!


Well, time to re-read a few Flannery O'Connor stories for class. . .not to mention a chapter or two of John Clavin's The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Yes, I get to explain Calvin's theology of predestination this morning. Just what any good Dominican hopes to do as the sun rises on another day. . .

Another book? Fall plans...

Just a "Thank You" to everyone who took the time to comment on my homily for this past Sunday, "We must pray for death."

As always, your feedback helped me to understand a bit better what I am doing and not doing as a preacher. I truly appreciate your honestly and your willingness to share your stories of personal suffering and struggle.

Many of you have suggested that this homily could serve as the basis for a book-length mediation on surrender, suffering, and death. This is certainly a possibility. I am considering a couple of other book proposals right now, but this is quickly rising to the top of my list.

My plans for the fall have recently changed rather dramatically! I am not going to be teaching at the Angelicum come October. Teaching will begin in Feb 2010. This is actually good news, because I will not be rushed to finish the thesis, take oral/written comps, and pass the French translation exam--all before the first week of Oct.

This means that I will not have to return to Rome until sometime in late Sept or early Oct. Where I will be staying while in the U.S. until then is still up in the air. Also, this delay means that I will have the time in the fall to pursue a creative project along with my usual studies and writing. . .truly, I have to have something creative going on while I am reading and writing about the philosophy of science. The field is fascinating, but my right-side dominate brain can only handle so much analytical logic and dry scientific argument!

So, as I contemplate another book proposal, please pray for me!

Fr. Philip

09 August 2009

We must pray for death

[NB. I welcome feedback on my all homilies. . .I am particularly interested in hearing what readers think of this one. . .feedback from Mass goers this morning was positive, but people rarely tell you in person if your homily bombed. Also, I would really appreciate hearing from deacons/priests/bishops who might read this piece. . .]

19th Sunday OT: 1 Kings 19.4-8; Eph 4.30-5.2; John 6.41-51
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas

Elijah, the prophet of God, prays for death: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life. . .” How thick, how deep must your despair be to pray for death? How heavy must your desperation be before you can no longer lift it? When do you cry to God: this is enough! Here and now, I am exhausted, weary beyond living. Elijah killed 450 prophets of Baal. For this reason, he confesses to his Lord, “. . .I am no better than my fathers. Take my life.” Elijah challenges Baal's prophets to a contest of power. He pits the real power of the Lord against the demonic power of the Canaanite god. Baal loses. And so do his prophets. Elijah marches the demon's priests to the River Kishon and cuts their throats. Fleeing the wrath of Jezebel for killing her prophets, Elijah goes into the desert and there he discovers—among the stones and sage brush—that he no longer wants to live. “This is enough, O Lord. Take my life. . .” Elijah, prophet of God, touched by His hand to speak His Word, despairs because he has murdered 450 men. What weight do you lift and carry? How thick and deep is the mire you must wade through? At what point do you surrender to God in anguish, walk into the desert, and pray for death? When you balance on the sharp point of desperation, poised to ask God to take your life, remember this: “When the afflicted call out, the Lord hears, and from all their distress He saves them! Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!”

To varying degrees and in different ways, all of us have discovered in one sort of desert or another that we are tired, exhausted beyond going another step. Overwhelmed by studies, financial stresses, marital strife, family feuds, personal sin, physical illness, we have all felt abandoned, stranded. We might say that it is nothing more than our lot in life to rejoice when our blessings are multiplied and cry when the well runs dry. These deserts look familiar. We've been here before and doubting not one whit, we know we will visit them again. We hope and keep on; we pray and trust in God. This is what we do, we who live near the cross. But there are those times when the desert seems endless and only death will bring rescue. We find hope in dying. And so, we cry out to God: “Take my life, O Lord!” Is this the prayer we should pray when we find ourselves broken and bleeding in the deserts of despair? It is. There is none better.

The witness of scripture pokes at us to remember that our God provides. Beaten down and hunted by Jezebel, exhausted by his prayer, Elijah falls asleep under the broom tree. An angel comes to him twice with food and drink, ordering him to wake up and eat: “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” Elijah obeys. Strengthened by the angelic supper, he walks for forty days and nights; he walks to God on Mt. Horeb. The Lord provides. Jesus reminds the Jews who are murmuring about his teaching that their ancestors wandered around in the desert for forty years, surviving on angelic food. Though they died as we all do, and despite their constant despairing, they survived as a people to arrive in the land promised to them by God. As always, the Lord provides. Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that Christ handed himself over “as a sacrificial offering to God” for us, thus giving us access to the Father's bounty, eternal access to only food and drink we will ever need to survive. Paul writes, “. . .you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Therefore, “. . .be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” We always have before us the feast of mercy. The Lord provides. So, wake up! And eat!

What are we promised, and what is provided? Even the slightest glance at scripture, even the most cursory perusal of our Christian history will reveal that following Christ on pilgrimage to the cross is no picnic. To paraphrase Lynn Anderson, “He never promised us a rose garden.” Sure, Christ promised us a garden alright. But it's the Garden of Gethsemane. Betrayal, blood, and a sacrificial death. He also promised us persecution, trial, conviction, and exile. He promised us nothing more than what he himself received as the Messiah. A life of hardship as a witness and the authority of the Word. The burdens of preaching mercy and the rewards of telling the truth. An ignoble death on a cross and a glorious resurrection from the tomb. What he promises, he provides. All that he provides is given from His Father's treasury. Food and drink on the way. The peace of reconciliation. A Father's love for His children. And an eternal life lived in worship before the throne.

All of this is given freely to us. But we must freely receive all that is given. Elijah flees into the desert, seeking his freedom from Jezebel's wrath. The former slaves of Egypt flee into the desert, seeking their freedom from Pharaoh's whip. The men and women of Ephesus flee into the desert of repentance and conversion, seeking their freedom from the slavery of sin. Each time we flee into a desert to despair, we are fleeing from the worries, the burdens of living day-to-day the promises we have made to follow Christ to the cross. Our lives are not made easier by baptism and the Eucharist. Our anxieties are not made simpler through prayer and fasting. Our pains, our sufferings are not relieved by the saints or the Blessed Mother. Our lives, anxieties, our pain and sufferings are made sacrificial by the promises of Christ and all that he provides. We are not made less human by striving to be Christ-like. We are not brought to physical and psychological bliss by walking the way of sorrows. We are not promised lives free of betrayal, blood, injury, and death. By striving to be Christ-like, by walking behind our Lord on the way of sorrows, we are all but guaranteeing that we will suffer for his sake. And so, the most fervent prayer we can pray along this Christian path is: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life. . .!” Surrender and receive, give up and feast. Surrender your life and receive God's blessing. Give up your suffering and feast on the bread of heaven.

What Christ promises, he provides. He says to those behind him, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Exhausted under a tree and running for your life; pitiful and despairing, wandering lost in a desert; chained to sin, wallowing in disobedience, yet seeking mercy. . .where do you find yourself? Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you exhausted? Spent? Do you need to be rescued? Cry out then, “Take my life, O Lord. . .” Pray for death. Pray for the death of Self. Pray for the death of “bitterness, fury, anger, reviling, and malice.” Pray for the death of whatever it is in you that obstructs your path to Christ; pray that it “be removed from you. . .So [you may] be [an] imitator of God, as [a] beloved child[], and live in love, as Christ loves us.” Remember and never forget: “When the afflicted call out, the Lord hears, and from all their distress He saves them! Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!” The bread come down from heaven, Christ himself, is our promised food and our provision for eternal life.