26 February 2011

Wonder at the gift that we are

7th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

In his Book of Wisdom, Sirach writes, “[God's] majestic glory [our] eyes beheld, His glorious voice [our] ears heard. He says to [us], “Avoid all evil.” To help us avoid evil, God breathed into the dust from which He made us His own likeness and image. Each of us, therefore, is gifted with a wise and inventive heart; a conscience to distinguish good from evil; the discipline of understanding; knowledge of the Spirit; each of us is gifted with a sense of wonder and awe of the Lord so that we might glory in God's deeds and praise His holy name. He gives us a law of life, our inheritance, and a covenant that reveals His justice. All of these gifts, each one of these gifts, He breathes into our flesh and bones, bodies with “limited days of life,” and “all [our] actions are clear as the sun to him, his eyes are ever upon [our] ways.” And yet, despite these endowments and our grateful acceptance of them, and despite His vigilance over us, we still seek out evil and bargain with the Enemy. Jesus says to the disciples, “. . .whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Do we accept, as a child would, God's gifts of life, conscience, knowledge, wonder, and wisdom? If not, then we choose to bargain with the Enemy, an enemy who can sell us anything we desire. We can receive from God all we need for free, or we can buy all we want from the Enemy. . .at a price.

Children are brought to Jesus for his blessing. The disciples are offended by the presumption of the parents, so they rebuke the parents. Jesus hears the disciples' rebuke and becomes indignant. He, in turn, rebukes the disciples, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” We can take this to mean that Jesus recognizes that children are the future of the Kingdom. They will grow to adulthood with the knowledge and wisdom of God's coming reign. We can also take Jesus to mean that the Kingdom belongs to the children because only the child-like are able to enter the Kingdom, only those who accept God's gifts with child-like wonder and gratitude are properly suited for living under His rule. What is it about being child-like that eases one into the coming Kingdom? Is it innocence? A willingness to be obedient? Maybe it's the fact that a child is dependent on her parents for survival—humility. Being child-like includes all of these and more.

We might be tempted to romanticize childhood and then take that romantic vision and apply it to Jesus' teaching. Anyone with children can tell you that kids are hardly angels all the time. They have their moments of angel-like behavior, but they are capable of being little devils when they set their minds to it. We all have a story or two from our childhood that would likely frighten our parents to hear it told! Jesus is not romanticizing children. He's not telling us to imitate some sort of nostalgic vision of children as “perfect little angels.” The child-like quality that Jesus is lifting up is one that even we hardened adults can rediscover: wonder. Wonder at our creation. Wonder at growing in knowledge and wisdom. Wonder at coming to understand and be thankful for the gift of life itself. Children accept the wonder of the world without judgment or a need to explain. They accept their very existence as a freely given gift of just being here and being here b/c a loving Father willed it. Though they will likely not say so, they accept that their being here has a purpose, a cause and an end. If we will be child-like, we will accept and be thankful for the gifts that we ourselves are—we are gifts composed of gifts. We will set aside the desire to bargain for what we do not need and accept all that God wants for us. We are free to make deals with the Enemy. But we are freer when we simply say, “Thank you, Lord, for all You have given us!” This is the prayer that seals our inheritance as children of the Most High.

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25 February 2011

Coffee Bowl Browsing

CBO says that B.O.'s Porkulus ran up a $821,000,000,000 tab.  Allegedly 3.6m jobs were "saved or created."  Do the math:  that's $228,055 per job.  Gubmint efficiency at its finest! 

Violent, right-wing Tea Partier--inflamed by rhetoric from the Rush/Beck/Coulter crowd--attacks a defenseless reporter.  Oh. . .wait.

B.O.'s DoJ will not defend DOMA in court.  This is a good thing.  So far, the DoJ has offered only token defenses of the law.  The DoJ's move will allow other individuals and groups with standing to offer more robust arguments in the law's defense. 

Pray hard for these sisters!  Young nuns combat human trafficking in the Philippines.

Remember:  where the Light shines, there will always a Shadow.  The reality of human failure is part and parcel of our faith.  Jesus came to heal the sick.

So, who's getting all that Evil Corporate Money in Wisconsin?  The take-away line:  ". . .public employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party."

Spending more money per student does not equal higher test scores.  For that matter, higher test scores have little to do with learning.

Another "green" boondoggle" fails miserably.  A $60,000 North London eco-friendly classroom that's unusable for most of the year.  Seriously, solar panels in London?!  Really?

Strong, like Bear... Smart, like Tractor.  More polite ways of saying, "He's not that bright." 

I hate meetings with a white-hot passion most reserve for Nazi concentration guards.  I also hate jargon, especially self-help jargon and business jargon.  Here's a game you can play if caught in a jargon-infested business meeting.

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24 February 2011

Don't lose an eye

N.B.  I'd been struggling since early, early this morning to write today's homily for the 5.30pm Mass.  Tossed two drafts.  Finally, just decided to type out my thoughts w/o any polish and let the Holy Spirit take it from there. 

7th Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Joseph Church, Ponchatula

When we make moral choices we can usually depend on two ways of doing so. There's the Law  and Order method and the Virtue method. The Law and Order method is simple: obey the law in everything you do, or suffer the consequences. The Virtue method is much, much more difficult b/c rather than focusing you on your behavior, this method demands that you look at yourself as a whole person—behavior and intention—and it demands that you ask a question few of us have the time to consider: what sort of person do I want to be? The L/O method says, “Don't lie. Don't steal. Don't kill.” Easy. The Virtue method wants you to contemplate your motivations, your circumstances. It wants you to spend precious time thinking hard about whether or not you want to be a liar, a thief, or a killer.

Jesus tells us that it is better to mutilate ourselves than it is to sin. Is this part of the LO or the Virtue method? Maybe a little of both? No doubt sin is something to avoid. Not only b/c it violates God law but also b/c sin makes us sinners. Jesus seems to be saying here that it is better to suffer bodily pain now than it is to suffer eternal pain later. That's true. He also seems to be saying that what we choose to do, to say, to think here and now has eternal consequences. That's true too. But we have to remember that we are called to a life of holiness. This doesn't exclude a life of legalistic purity, but holiness is far more difficult, far more substantial than simply being obedient to the law.

Over and over again, you choose to obey the law and you never sin b/c you follow all the moral rules. You keep both your hands, both your feet, and both eyes. Excellent. But do you love God? Neighbor? Self? Why are you following the rules? Are you obedient b/c you fear punishment? Or are you obedient b/c you hope never to disappoint the Father who loves you? Are you obedient b/c you get anxious even thinking about breaking a rule? Or b/c there's no room in your heart for disobedience? No room of even thinking about anything that isn't of God?

Jesus tells the disciples, “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor?” Salt was thrown on a temple sacrifice as it burned on the altar. He's reminding his friends that salt purifies and preserves. Salt seasons, adds character. All to the good. But we will be salted—purified, preserved, seasoned—with fire. We will be tested. B/c of our professed love for Christ, we will be tested. When the test finds you, will you rely on your own ability to follow the rules? Or will you throw yourself on God's love and mercy? Will you call on the strength you have gained as a follower of the law? Or will you cry out for God to use His strength to rescue you?

Make a habit of calling on God's love and strength. Make a habit of falling back on His promise to never abandon you. Make a habit of not sinning b/c you know that Christ died for your sins, and that you are forgiven. Virtue is just a good habit. And faith is the good habit of depending on God's infinite mercy every time that test comes around.

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23 February 2011

Prayers from the New Translation of the Missal

The USCCB has posted the first prayers we will hear prayed from the new translation of the Missal:

First Sunday in Advent 2011

+ Collect +

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

+ Prayer over the Offerings +

Accept, we pray, O Lord, these offerings we make,
gathered from among your gifts to us,
and may what you grant us to celebrate devoutly here below,
gain for us the prize of eternal redemption.
Through Christ our Lord.

+ Prayer after Communion +

May these mysteries, O Lord,
in which we have participated,
profit us, we pray,
for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by them
to love the things of heaven
and hold fast to what endures.
Through Christ our Lord.

These are much better theologically than the 1973 translations. . .but they are a little clumsy.   The first three lines of the Collect are pretty bad, actually.


Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth with righteous deeds
to meet your Christ at his coming. . .

The bishops needed a poet on their translation staff!  :-)

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Female "deacon" renounces her "ordination"

Fr. Z. brings our attention to something I have NEVER seen in my 30yrs of dealing with feminists:  a feminist openly, publicly admitting that she was wrong!  

Dr. Norma Jean Coon participated in a fake ordination presided over by a fake bishop (who claimed that she had been "ordained" by three real R.C. bishops in Germany. . .sorry boys, it didn't take).  

Dr. Coon is now renouncing her "ordination" and giving her obedience to the Holy Father.  She also renounces her affiliation with Roman Catholic Women Priests (is that like the Orthodox Jewish Bacon Association?). 

It looks as though Dr. Coon is renouncing her "ordination" b/c she didn't have the proper permissions from the Church.  N.B.  even if (by some strange accident) she had received the proper permissions and the Pope himself had laid hands on her in St Peter's Basilica, she still wouldn't be ordained.

Remember:  the Church doesn't ordain women because it chooses not to. . .the Church CANNOT ordain women.   

Good for her.  I just hope this doesn't turn out to be some kind of sick hoax. 

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On being seduced by New Age occultism

Archbishop Thomas Winski on "New Age spirituality":

Despite the secularism of our age — or perhaps, because of it — many people are rediscovering an interest in spirituality. One can go to almost any commercial bookstore and discover whole sections devoted to the theme.

Unfortunately, most of what sells as “spiritual reading,” usually classified under the heading of “New Age,” does not demand any more faith or belief than going to the movies. Not all that is marketed under the rubric “spirituality” is “chicken soup” for the Christian soul. Indeed, much of it, if consumed indiscriminately or unwarily, could prove poisonous to the life of faith. While New Age writings may seductively appeal to the legitimate longing of human nature, they are fundamentally opposed to Christian revelation. . .

Read the whole thing.

You might also like my posts:

How Catholics Can Avoid New Age & Occult Practices

Just Say No to the Ouija

My Occult Past (such as it was. . .)

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22 February 2011

Coffee Cup Browsing

This won't help the unions:  the average salary + benefits for WI public school teachers is $100,005. Practically slave labor.  "Workers" Unite!

Tolerance is not indifference. . .the Church teaches respect for religious liberty.

Spiritual starvation. . .do yourself a BIG favor and take the time to read this.  Excellent.

Eucharistic Adoration transforms a dying parish.

Prayer for the people of Christchurch, NZ. . .major earthquake strikes.

Happy Easter. . .from my hair.

No, this isn't a pic of me. . .but does a good job of representing how I feel some days.

Dominican kitty (in full habit) has a message for HancAquam

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21 February 2011

The real drama: belief/unbelief

Confession:  I got a late start this morning, so part of this homily has been cannibalized from one I preached back in 2007.  Mea culpa!

7th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

Great teachers are often great actors. Pitch the voice just right. The dramatic gesture. The well-placed pause for effect. Props help and so does audience participation. Engage the students in a mini-drama and never let them know that they are learning. Great preachers are both great actors and teachers. They use all the same techniques, plus they pull from a long tradition of biblical images and bring them alive for a contemporary congregation. Engage the congregation in the drama of the living Word and let them see and hear Jesus himself proclaiming the gospel. There's only one small problem with this familiar picture of the Christian preacher. You're not going to find Jesus on stage acting a part, or playing to an audience for effect. Take this morning's gospel for example. Jesus performs an exorcism. Always good for a little drama. When the possessed boy sees Jesus, he starts thrashing around, foaming at the mouth, etc. Jesus asks few questions about the boy's history. Listens to the answers and seems just a little put out by the whole situation. He issues the demon a simple command, and it's over. There's no swiveling heads, no nails or bugs puked up, no mysterious messages pressed against the flesh from inside the boy’s body. No levitating. Just a little shouting and a couple of convulsions and the demon is gone. So, where's the spiritual drama? Where's the tension and conflict in this story? Look to the boy's father. Jesus addresses the father's doubt, “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” The father cries out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” 

You can almost see the distress on the father’s face. There’s torment there and love and a dreadful hope, the kind of hope that one needs to feel in order to keep going, but at the same time the kind that is often broken by what seems impossible. Barely above a whisper, the father, reluctantly, expectantly, says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” There's a long moment between putting his hope into words, trusting in the power of a stranger, and the stranger’s answer, “’If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Is the father relieved? Or joyous? Or just more desperate? He cries out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” He is showing great wisdom here. He understands that his unbelief is at the root of his yet to be fulfilled hopes for his son. And he understands that it is his belief, his faith that will give his hope healing power. The father's dramatic confession of belief; then his plea for help; and then his admission of unbelief is a sign of his wisdom. He cries out in true humility, confessing to crippling doubts and then total trust. Up until the moment Jesus speaks, doubt strangled all of the father's hope. At his confession of faith, he brings peace to himself and his son. 

The boy’s father makes a humble and wise admission: “I trust you, heal my distrust.” And Jesus works with this prayer to cast out the demon. Like this father’s faith, our faith is never about quantity, about having “enough faith.” We don’t “have faith” in the way that we “have money.” Faith is the habit of trusting God to do what He says He will do. Our faith, our habit of trust in God, can be measured in depth, strength, endurance, or sincerity, but never quantity. Nor will we often find our faith on stage, at the center of a drama, and so publicly tested. But there is in us a virtue, a habit of being, that makes it possible for us to reach out to God and say without fear, “I believe, Lord!” and confess without fear, “Help my unbelief!” When we throw ourselves so completely on the mercy of God, we give witness to an eternal truth, “All wisdom comes from the Lord and with him it remains forever, and is before all time.” Indeed, upon His friends, our Lord lavishes His wisdom.

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Test Results

Good News!  There are no alien babies growing in my head. . .

MRI's and ultrasound came back clean. 

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On Man becoming God: seven more explanations from Catholic Tradition

The notion that human salvation is to be understood as a form of deification/divinization is solidly attested to in the tradition of the Church.  What distinguishes the Christian idea of deification from the pagan idea of deification is our belief that "man becoming God" is the freely given gift of the Holy Spirit.  There is no salvation/deification outside the work of the Blessed Trinity.

1. St Thomas Aquinas, ST I.12.5:

. . .since the natural power of the created intellect does not avail to enable it to see the essence of God, as was shown in the preceding article, it is necessary that the power of understanding should be added by divine grace. Now this increase of the intellectual powers is called the illumination of the intellect, as we also call the intelligible object itself by the name of light of illumination. And this is the light spoken of in the Apocalypse (Apocalypse 21:23): "The glory of God hath enlightened it"--viz. the society of the blessed who see God. By this light the blessed are made "deiform"--i.e. like to God, according to the saying: "When He shall appear we shall be like to Him, and [Vulgate: 'because'] we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 2:2).

2. ST I.12.6:

Of those who see the essence of God, one sees Him more perfectly than another. This, indeed, does not take place as if one had a more perfect similitude of God than another, since that vision will not spring from any similitude; but it will take place because one intellect will have a greater power or faculty to see God than another. The faculty of seeing God, however, does not belong to the created intellect naturally, but is given to it by the light of glory, which establishes the intellect in a kind of "deiformity," as appears from what is said above, in the preceding article. 

3. from the Catholic Encyclopedia on "supernatural adoption":

The Fathers dwell on this privilege [our adoption as "sons of God"] which they are pleased to style deification. St. Irenæus (Adv. Haereses, iii, 17-19); St. Athanasius (Cont. Arianos, ii, 59); St. Cyril of Alexandria (Comment. on St. John, i, 13, 14); St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on St. Matthew, ii, 2); St. Augustine (Tracts 11 and 12 on St. John); St. Peter Chrysologus (Sermon 72 on the Lord's Prayer) — all seem willing to spend their eloquence on the sublimity of our adoption. For them it was an uncontradicted primal principle, an ever ready source of instruction for the faithful, as well as an argument against heretics  such as the Arians, Macedonians, and Nestorians. The Son is truly God, else how could He deify us? The Holy Ghost is truly God, else how could His indwelling sanctify us? The Incarnation of the Logos is real, else how could our deification be real? Be the value of such arguments what it may, the fact of their having been used, and this to good effect, bears witness to the popularity and common acceptance of the dogma in those days.

4. from the Catholic Encyclopedia on "mystical marriage":

. . . .the term mystical marriage is employed by St. Teresa and St John of the Cross to designate that mystical union with God which is the most exalted condition attainable by the soul in this life. It is also called a "transforming union", "consummate union", and "deification". St. Teresa likewise calls it "the seventh resting-place" of the "interior castle"; she speaks of it only in that last treatise which she composed five years before her death, when she had been but recently raised to this degree.

5. from St John Damascus, "An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," III.12:

For the Word Himself became flesh, having been in truth conceived of the Virgin, but coming forth as God with the assumed nature which, as soon as He was brought forth into being, was deified by Him, so that these three things took place simultaneously, the assumption of our nature, the coming into being, and the deification of the assumed nature by the Word. And thus it is that the holy Virgin is thought of and spoken of as the Mother of God, not only because of the nature of the Word, but also because of the deification of man's nature, the miracles of conception and of existence being wrought together, to wit, the conception the Word, and the existence of the flesh in the Word Himself. 

6. from Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen:

The Eucharist is the culmination of this prayer experience, the other pole indissolubly bound to the Word, as the place where the Word becomes Flesh and Blood, a heavenly experience where this becomes an event. In the Eucharist, the Church's inner nature is revealed, a community of those summoned to the synaxis to celebrate the gift of the One who is offering and offered: participating in the Holy Mysteries, they become "kinsmen" [28] of Christ, anticipating the experience of divinization in the now inseparable bond linking divinity and humanity in Christ.

7. from the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Blessed Trinity":

In Greek theology. . .the Holy Spirit does not come to us because we have received sanctifying grace; but it is through His presence we receive the gift. He is the seal, Himself impressing on us the Divine image. That Divine image is indeed realized in us, but the seal must be present to secure the continued existence of the impression. Apart from Him it is not found (Origen, Commentary on John II.6; Didymus, "De Spiritu Sancto", x, 11; Athanasius, "Ep. ad. Serap.", III, iii). This Union with the Holy Spirit constitutes our deification (theopoiesis). Inasmuch as He is the image of Christ, He imprints the likeness of Christ upon us; since Christ is the image of the Father, we too receive the true character of God's children (Athanasius, loc. cit.; Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 31.4).

All selections were taken from New Advent.

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20 February 2011

On Man becoming God: four explanations

Today's homily provoked a few questions about the nature of our salvation understood as "Man becoming God."  Below are four selections that explain the concept of theosis/deification/divinization. 

1. From an Advent mission that I preached back in 2007,  Mission Two:  Grace and Divinization:

The longest tradition of the Catholic Church understands our redemption and sanctification, our one time rescue and our growing into holiness, as an on-going process of turning each of us individually and all of us together into Christ. The Biblical tradition, the Patristic tradition, the scholastic tradition, and all of the traditions of the Church loyal to the magisterial ministry of Peter agree: God became man so that men might become God. That’s right. You heard me correctly: to be saved is to be made God. We call this deification or divinization—the God-initiated, God-driven, God-bound process of bringing a man or woman into the fullest possible participation in the divine life. Think about what the phrase “to partake” means. We can partake in a meal. Partake in a game of poker. Partake in an discussion. This means that we are involved, engaged, deeply committed to the activity, and open to the players, the actors; open to the game, and ready to be caught up, absorbed, taken in and changed. You eat a steak and that steak becomes part of you. You drink a glass of water and that water becomes part of you. You marry and your single flesh joins another single flesh to become one flesh. You eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ and you become Christ. You are what you eat!

To partake of the divine nature, then means to share in, to participate in, to live with right now and forever the Blessed Trinity. To be supremely intimate with God the Father who loves His Son in the Holy Spirit. But we have to be absolutely clear about one thing: we do nothing to deserve this gift of the divine life; we do nothing to merit our redemption in Christ; we cannot reach for God until God teaches us to reach; we cannot grasp at an everlasting life until God teaches us to grasp; we cannot pray, sacrifice, sing, forgive, confess, repent, show mercy, grow in holiness—none of this!—we can do none of this until God teaches us to pray, sacrifice, sing, forgive, confess, repent, show mercy, grow in holiness. 

2. From Fr. Jean Corbon’s book, The Wellspring of Worship (Ignatius Press, 1988):

Following these three pathways of the transfigured icon, we are divinized to the extent that the least impulses of our nature find fulfillment in the communion of the Blessed Trinity We then "live" by the Spirit, in oneness with Christ, for the Father. The only obstacle is possessiveness, the focusing of our persons on the demands of our nature, and this is sin for the quest of self breaks the relation with God. The asceticism that is essential to our divinization and that represents once again a synergy of grace consists in simply but resolutely turning every movement toward possessiveness into an offering. The epiclesis on the altar of the heart must be intense at these moments, so that the Holy Spirit may touch and consume our death and the sin that is death's sting. Entering into the name of Jesus, the Son of God and the Lord who shows mercy to us sinners, means handing over to him our wounded nature, which he does not change by assuming but which he divinizes by putting on. From offertory to epiclesis and from epiclesis to communion the Spirit can then ceaselessly divinize us; our life becomes a eucharist until the icon is completely transformed into him who is the splendor of the Father (223).

3. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." (par 460)

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