29 January 2011

Faith calms the storm

3rd Week OT (Sat)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

You only need to read Mark's gospel once to realize that the disciples aren't among the Lord's brightest angels. They come around eventually, of course, but until then Mark portrays them in less than flattering terms. So, when someone tells you that Mark's gospel is their favorite of the four, you can bet that this person struggles mightily with being the Lord's faithful student. It might be that this gospel made it into the canon of authentic scripture precisely b/c the disciples are portrayed as men who often speak out in real confusion when Jesus starts teaching. Those of us who want to be good disciples but have problems “getting it” need role models too! Mark's gospel also gives us a chance to see and hear Jesus as a teacher thoroughly frustrated with his sometimes block-headed students. Just count the number of times Jesus says something like, “Don't you get it yet? Do you still not understand?” This morning, Mark tells us about the time Jesus and the disciples find themselves on a boat in the middle of a storm. The disciples cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In my cranky, teacherly imagination I can hear Jesus grumbling, “How many times do I have to show them? Are they even paying attention?” Of course, what he actually says is, “Quiet! Be still!” And both the storm and the disciples are calmed.

The disciples are more than just calmed. Mark reports that they are “awed,” saying, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” Better question: who is this that the wind and sea obey but we do not? Keep in mind here the root meaning of “obey.” In Latin, “obediere” means “to listen to and comply with.” You cannot comply with a request or an order until you have listened. The disciples seem to hear Jesus, but do they listen? Truly hear and understand what he is trying to teach them. The wind and sea comply with Jesus' order to be calm without question or complaint b/c they have no choice in the matter, no decision to make about obedience. The disciples do have a choice. And so do we. This is why Jesus asks, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” To put this question another way: Why are you afraid? Why have you not chosen to trust me? 

In the life of Abraham, we have an ancient example of trust. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews recounts this faith. He writes, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out. . .to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. . . By faith he sojourned in the promised land. . .By faith he received power [to have children with Sarah in their old age]. . .By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up [his son] Isaac [as a sacrifice].” Abraham listened to God and complied. He didn't know where he was going; or what he was doing. Despite his ignorance, he chose to trust and flourished b/c he did. In choosing to trust in God, Abraham realized—made real—all that he hoped for. Yes, he anguished; yes, he hesitated at times. But without evidence, without any proof of divine good will, he welcomed God's will into his life and made it his own. What the disciples lack and what we might sometimes lack is the willingness to risk our ignorance, to put our need for control in danger of being taken away. 

Jesus calmed the storm, and he awed the disciples. They had good reasons to trust in Christ. So do we. Look around you. Here we are with all our faults, failures, anxieties, hopes, and our singular love for God. Here we all are giving Him our thanks for showing us the way out of the storm, for inviting us into his eternal life.

Coffee Cup Browsing

The weakest part of presidential politics:  the party nominating process.  I agree.  The best candidates never seem to get very far.

Bishop Robert Vasa is sent to the diocese of Santa Rosa.  Only a couple of more retirements/appointments on the left coast and the episcopal bench will be revitalized completely.

I've often used "Father Hollywood" and "Father Oprah" to describe two kinds of pastors--the It's All About ME pastor and the It's All About How You Feel pastor.  Meet the real Fr. Oprah.

Tolerant Spanish progressives demonstrate their chief virtue.

On the restoration of Catholic identity and the new translation of the Missal. 

The march the MSM missed.  Of course, the MSM "missed" the march.  All those unaborted young people marching around, enjoying life.  Creepy.

Zimark on The Rite:  "Such movies, when they are done well, peel back the Norman Rockwell veil we'd all rather stayed in place and show us what lies behind it: Hieronymous Bosch."

Married priests are not the Magic Bullet we think we need.  The financial problems of maintaining a married priest and his family alone are enough to make a parish pale. 

Just say NO to an internet "kill switch" for the US.

Get the quarterback!

Cute pic of the week. . .warning:  potential sugar coma.

Things My Five-Year Has Said:  "This is not about tasting amazing. This is about fried chicken cake.”

If you "get" this pic, you probably watch Criminal Minds.

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28 January 2011

Kindle Breviary?

Has anyone found a Kindle version of the Roman Breviary?  Anyone. . .anyone?

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27 January 2011

Being weighed by your own measure

3rd Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

Hear once again Jesus preaching at the end of the Parable of the Sower: “. . .those [seed] sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” Think of yourselves as seeds of God's Word sown into the world. And think of this particular time and place as the rich soil when and where you have been planted. Are you bearing fruit thirty, sixty, one-hundredfold? If so, gives thanks to God for His abundance in your life and pray that both your charity and good works increase! If you are not bearing fruit, why not? Jesus hints at one possibility: “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?” This question challenges us to consider the possibility that despite having been sown on rich soil and despite having been given all the attention and care necessary for growth and abundance, we are not bearing fruit. Jesus hints that the key to becoming fruitful, the key to growing in holiness lies in making your life all about revealing God's living Word for all to see. He says, “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” So, if you are not producing good fruit, ask yourself: how do I fail to bring God's love to light? How do I become a living revelation of God's loving-kindness?

Jesus gives us help with diagnosing the problem and solving it. He says, “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you. To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” If you are not producing the good fruit that you could be producing, it might be b/c you are not using the same standard to measure both your own life and the lives of others. Think in terms of forgiveness. Do you expect immediate and unconditional forgiveness from God and at the same time nurse grudges against those who have sinned against you? If so, the measure you use to weigh sins committed against you is the same measure God uses to weigh your own sins. The same balancing equation goes for weighing your generosity; how you forgive; and the quality of your daily witness. Dole out meager measures and not only will you receive less than what you give, what little you have will be taken from you. Mete out large measures of kindness, patience, and forgiveness, and receive from God even larger measures in return. 

Our lamps shine brightest when we receive from God and give to others; when we receive in gratitude and give generously. This is not as difficult as it might sound. The key piece to remember is humility—the virtue, that is, the good habit of knowing that everything you possess, everyone you love, all your gifts come from God, freely given to you to be freely given away in return. God doesn't love us, forgive us, and bless us because we deserve to be loved, forgiven, and blessed. We are loved, forgiven, and blessed so that we can love; so that we can forgive; so that we can bless. By what measure does the Father love, forgive, and bless us? That is His measure (pointing to the crucifix)! Sacrificial love. And if we will produce abundant good fruit, if we will shine His light into the world, that (pointing again) must be our measure. He died b/c he loves us. We can nothing less than follow him, dying to self and rising again to a new life as living measures of His Good News.

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26 January 2011

The Mystery of the Kingdom Solved

Ss. Titus and Timothy
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph's Church, Ponchatula

What do we need in order to understand the Good News? What is it—in addition to the message itself—that we must have to ensure that we see and hear the gospel as Jesus preached it? You might want to ask: why do you assume that we need something beyond the Word itself in order to understand? Good question. Think about it. If simply hearing the Word read and preached were enough to convert someone, then about 90% of the world would be Christian. We also have Jesus' strange admission to his disciples, “The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables. . .” Why use difficult-to-interpret parables when trying to explain the Kingdom-mystery? Basically, Jesus admits to using parables in his preaching in order to keep some from understanding his message! He intentionally hides the truth from some and reveals it to others. What is it that those ignorant of the mystery need in order to join the enlightened? Seeing and hearing the mystery preached is not enough for conversion. What's required is an act of faith, a commitment to trusting in God's promises, and a life lived in charity. These virtues reveal the mystery of the Kingdom.

It seems exceedingly odd to those of us living in the tolerant 21st century that Jesus would intentionally obscure the truth of the gospel in order to exclude anyone. His secrecy seems somehow unjust, or maybe a little paranoid. Maybe so, but we could take this secrecy to be a practical precaution. The Pharisees and the Roman collaborators among the Jews are plotting to have Jesus executed. They follow him around waiting for him to say something blasphemous or to do something that would betray him as seditious. Cloaking the gospel in the riddles of a parable seems prudent in light of the political situation Jesus finds himself in. But there's more here than just political expediency. The parable of the sower itself reveals a truth about the Gospel that we cannot ignore. When sown freely, the seed of God's Word falls on different sorts of ground, different sorts of hearts and minds. Some are fertile, some are barren; others are rocky or choked with thorns. The point here is that merely sowing the seeds of the Word is not enough to guarantee a harvest. More is required.

Understanding the Gospel is not simply a matter of comprehending doctrine or memorizing scripture. We aren't solving math problems, or reading a map, or carrying out a chemistry experiment. We aren't dealing with an engineering problem, or logically working out a philosophical argument. The mystery of the Kingdom must be lived to be understood. Faith is a daily commitment to trusting in God. Hope is not a gamble but the firm conviction that God's promises have already been fulfilled. Charity, loving-kindness is the way we express this hope. If we trust in God's providence and firmly believe that His promises have been fulfilled, then we must live now as if we already live with Him in heaven. When we do this, we ourselves become the seeds of the Word; seeds sown freely into the world to take root and produce an abundant harvest.

The question now is: where have you been sown? Are you living in such a way that God's kingdom is revealed to any and all who see and hear you? Are you growing his His holiness and sharing the fruits of your holiness? The Psalm we recited this morning says it all, “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations!” Mystery solved.

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25 January 2011

Coffee Cup Browsing

Superficiality of the hyper-focused undegrad major. . .yet more reasons to give serious thought and prayer to sending your kids to schools like the University of Dallas!

PA Abortionist might just be America's most prolific serial killer.  Here's a good question:  where were all those dozens of state agencies and throngs of bureaucrats that love to regulate our lives?  Why weren't they kicking in the doors of this butcher shop?  Hmmmmm. . .I wonder.

Lest we forget. . .this "doctor" used an abortion technique that the current occupant of the White House believes to be perfectly moral.  

Speaking of expensive and largely useless bureaucrats:  House Committee considers cutting the U.S. budget for the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission.

An E.T. Jesus?  If there are "people"  on other planets, was Christ's sacrifice on the cross efficacious for their salvation?   Did the Son incarnate on their world?

I believe they call this "Rubinesque"?

Um, if you're married to the Fire Chief. . .you prolly shouldn't divorce him.

Shanghai:  1990 vs. 2010.  I was in Shanghai in 1990.  Capitalism at work!

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24 January 2011

Once for all. . .into the Kingdom

St Francis de Sales
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Joseph's Church, Ponchatula

Jesus preaches the Gospel: “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For Catholics living in the American South, Jesus' urgent call for repentance might sound a little too Protestant, a little too evangelical. We've all seen the cartoon with the disreputable prophet on the street with a sign that reads, “REPENT!” Or, we've heard the TV preacher screaming about repentance and the fires of hell that await those of us who refuse to turn away from sin. We Catholics—no more or less than anyone else—are called to turn our hearts and minds away from disobedience and toward the obedience of the Cross—a life lived in sacrificial love and service to others all for Christ's sake. Perhaps the difference between Catholics and the TV preachers is one of style rather than substance. If the flavor of repentance is distasteful to you, maybe it's just the spice used rather than the meat of the dish that turns your tongue. Let's hope and pray that this is the case b/c refusing to repent of one's sins constitutes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and such a refusal will not be forgiven. In fact, refusing to repent cannot be forgiven. God will not save us against our will. He will love us right into hell.

This sounds harsh, I know. But this a truth of the Catholic faith that cannot be spiced up or sugar-coated or hidden away. The Catechism is starkly clear on the issue: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (n. 1864). Theologically, this makes perfect sense. We have two truths in balance here. First, God wills that all His people return to Him through Christ. Second, He wills that we do so freely. So that all may return to Him through Christ, the invitation to salvation is made unconditionally, without limits, to everyone. The effect of Christ's sacrifice is not limited to one tribe or people or region of the world. To demonstrate His love for us and to see us come to Him without coercion, God has willed that we must accept His invitation to salvation. If we accept, we are saved in love. If we refuse, God respects our decision to live eternally outside His love. The Church defines Hell as “state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God. . .” (n. 1033). In other words, we send ourselves to hell by stubbornly refusing to repent. Our final refusal, our last rejection of God's invitation to join Him in love is called “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” 

Fortunately, the Letter to the Hebrews lays out for us how our salvation is accomplished: “. . .once for all [Christ] has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice. Just as it is appointed that human beings die once. . .so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.” Christ came to us first to take away our sins. He will come again to bring salvation for those who wait in his love. Whether you wait in love or not is a free choice. If you will wait, then follow Christ, live and die as he lived and died—a life and death of sacrificial love and service, a life of obedience and humility. Know that you are not alone. The whole body of Christ serves along side you. We are a single body on pilgrimage from here to the kingdom to come.

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23 January 2011

A Semi-rant about cell phones, etc.

In her new book, Alone Together, MIT professor Sherry Turkle attacks the destructive potential in all the new technology floating around, especially Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones.

"Turkle's thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world."

Like most ideas put out there for pushing sales of a book, this one is overstated.  However, there is a kernel of truth here.  As Catholics, we are naturally sacramental thinkers/doers; that is, we think and act in ways that reveal and enact God's grace to ourselves and others.  Technology can certainly be used to reveal God's grace, but it can be abused as well.

The distinction between the use and abuse of a good is as old as the Bible.  St. Augustine made it a central feature of his moral theology.  Aquinas followed his lead.  And the Church continues to teach that any Good Use can be turned to Abuse.  Think of food, alcohol, sex, money, relationships, etc.  

My biggest complaint with cell phones is that they tend to interrupt face-to-face contact by demanding immediate attention.  Like a small child who hasn't quite learned the social skills to politely excuse himself, cell phones ring/sing/squeal until they are attended to.  Of course, its the cell phone owner who abuses the personal contact by dropping the conversation and answering the phone.  

At the root of the Evil that is the Cell Phone is the notion that we must all be 100% available 100% of the time.  The lie told by the cell phone is that we are 100% available 100% of the time.  We aren't.  Sometimes we are at Mass or in the confessional or visiting with a friend or shopping for the family.  We are occupied and the squealing cell phone is a rude intrusion. 

Now, before the comboxes fill up with stories about how having a cell phone available helped to save a life, etc.  I know.  I know.  I really do.  They are more than just convenient sometimes.  But tell the truth:  how many times have you answered your cell since you've had one?  How many of those times have been calls that were truly urgent, meaning to have missed the call would  have meant injury or death to a loved one?  How many times do you hear people in the check out line or at the gym or even in church just shooting the breeze with someone on the cell instead of attending to the business and the people right in front of them?

A story:  I was looking for a book in a Borders one night.  The place was packed.  The guy standing next to me was on his cell.  He was telling the person on the other end of the line that he was bored and that he had no one to hang out with.  He's in a bookstore with literally thousands of books and he's bored.  He's in a bookstore with more than a hundred people and he's all alone.  Really? 

If there's a better scene for a play on the postmodern human condition than this one, please let me know.

P.S.  The irony of grousing on my blog about the alienating effects of technology has not escaped me. 

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