05 March 2011

"Maybe" = Darkness

8th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

Jesus enters Jerusalem. He goes to the temple and drives out the moneychangers. The chief priests and scribes get wind of this and decide that Jesus must be executed for blasphemy. They are outraged at his violent expulsion of the moneychangers from the temple area, and they fear “him because the whole crowd was astonished at his teaching.” When they find Jesus, they ask him, "By what authority are you doing these things?" In more colloquial terms, they are asking Jesus, “Just who do you think you are?!” Rather than answer their challenge directly, Jesus put them to a test: “Was John's baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me." What is this question meant to test? Jesus wants the priests and scribes to either publicly accept his Sonship or reject it. Remember what happened when John baptized Jesus. A dove descended on Jesus and a heavenly voice rang out, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Jesus' authority to teach, to perform miracles, to chase off the moneychangers derives from his relationship to the Father. The priests and scribes cannot accept or reject this authority without risking their own authority or riling up the crowd. Seeing into their calculating hearts, Jesus refuses to answer their challenge. In other words, he refuses to reveal to them that he is the Messiah. When it comes to accepting or rejecting the Sonship of Jesus, there is no middle-ground, no negotiated answer. There is “yes” or there is “no.” 

Not unlike the priests and scribes who challenge Jesus' authority, we like our options kept open. “Yes” or “no” is too black and white, too either/or. What about the gray areas? The both/and? What about our freedom to explore, to experiment, to “grow into” an answer to God's call to holiness? Jesus is being a bit unreasonable here. Different people at different points on their journey have different spiritual needs. There's a variety of responses possible. Shouldn't we celebrate the diversity that we find among God's creatures as they stoke the divine spark within them? Well, yes, we should. Each of us responds to God's call to holiness differently, and we do have different spiritual needs along the Way. But before we can respond to God's call to holiness and before our spiritual needs can be met, we must say “Yes” to the question: is Jesus the Messiah? We must accept or reject the revelation that came with Jesus' baptism at the hands of John. “Was John's baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” Is Jesus the Messiah or not?

The priests and scribes calculate an answer to this challenge. Rather than boldly accepting or rejecting the revelation of Jesus' Sonship, they plot an answer that they believe will preserve their power and calm the crowd. What did they come up with? “We don't know.” Jesus could've enlightened them, but he chooses instead to leave them in their make-believe ignorance. He leaves them in the darkness they have created for themselves. Not unlike the priests and scribes, we too can choose to live in a self-created darkness. We too can calculate a response to God's call to holiness that leaves us with an imaginary sense of freedom, with the illusion that we are at liberty in the world. We can wander aimlessly, fooling ourselves into believing that we are masters of our own destiny, captains of our own ship. But darkness is darkness, chosen or not. We either accept the Sonship of Jesus, or we reject it. If we accept, we join his procession to Jerusalem and the cross and on to the brightness of our Father's house. There is “yes” and there is “no.” “Maybe” will only keep us in darkness.

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04 March 2011

A surprising #2 for H.A.'s audience

Lots of excellent guesses. . .the U.K., Canada, and India are in the top five audiences for HancAquam.

But HancAquam's second largest audience can be found in. . .
[Drum roll]


I have no idea why.  The google stat counter for blogger indicates that about 25% of HA's audience is in Romania.  

Go figure.

Vă mulţumesc pentru cititorii mei din România!

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Dominican Student Brothers Preaching

These Southern Province student brothers are studying in St Louis, MO at the Aquinas Institute of Theology.  These guys were all novices in Irving, TX while I was a member of the senior community. 

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HancAquam's Second Largest Audience?

HancAquam's audience is largely located in the U.S.  No surprise there.

What is surprising is the location of HA's second largest audience. . .

Any guesses?

UPDATE @ 2.36pm CST:  Nobody's guessed the right answer yet!

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Madison mayor caught trying to conspire with WI's Sec. of State to stall the governor's budget until city employees got a new sweetheart contract signed. 

The difference btw collective bargaining in the public and private sectors.  Private sector unions don't get to elect who sits on the other side of the table in negotiations.

Political artist is punished for his outrageous stances on current issues.

The FL federal judge who declared ObamaCare unconstitutional orders B.O. to appeal his ruling in seven days.  B.O. should've listened to the ageless wisdom of the Greek,s "Be careful what you ask of the gods.  You might get it."

The World's Top Ten Gaddafi Toads.  I think he forgot one.  A big One.

Liturgical abuse weakens the faith. . .I couldn't agree more!  We believe what we pray and pray what we believe.

The lovely and talented Anna Arco of the UK's Catholic Herald urges readers not to wipe off the Ash Wednesday smudge.  Long-time HA readers know my stance on this issue.  Jesus said, "Wash your face!"  However, this ain't a hill I'm willing to die on.

Why do we need a new translation of the Missal?  Hint:  it's the difference btw formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence (i.e., paraphrasing).

A new and improved NAB?  If I could change one thing about our liturgical practice it would be to replace the NAB Lectionary with the Revised Standard Version published by Ignatius Press.

U.S. Marines are always polite.

I can fix that!  Redneck solutions for everyday problems.

Husband down! Husband down!

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03 March 2011

Ah, you noticed. . .

Regular HancAquam readers have noted and commented upon the subtle changes I've made in my preaching style lately.  (Not subtle enough, apparently!)

Preaching to a "regular parish" (i.e., not a university parish, or a studium congregation) required that changes be made.   I also have the privilege of regularly preaching to our K-8th students at St Joseph's School.  Finding the appropriate props for the readings ain't easy (sesame seeds, red food coloring, and a picture of a mustard tree. . .)

Frankly, the new style--a little more linear, somewhat more practical--is much more difficult to produce than my natural style--convoluted and impractical?  But I am spending a lot more time with the readings and a lot more time studying in preparation for writing the homily.

Clunkers still find their way into the pulpit. . .but that will always be the case. 

Many thanks for the comments and prayers!  God bless, Fr. Philip

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Hey! I think he's calling you. . .

8th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

In the Southern Baptist tradition, Sunday morning and Wednesday night services always end with an “altar call.” While the pianist softly plays “The Old Rugged Cross” in the background, the preacher exhorts sinners to come forward and take Jesus into their hearts, “Dontcha hear Jesus calling you, brothers and sisters?! Callin' you to his cross!” Some will come forward to meet the deacon at the rail and leave the church “saved.” They answered the call, and they were healed. True to their tradition, this particular Baptist liturgical practice is deeply rooted in scripture. The blind man, Bartimaeus, hears that Jesus is near. He begins to call out to Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me!” The crowd tries to shush him, but Bartimaeus continues to cry out. Finally, Jesus says, “Call him,” and those nearest the blind man, say to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Bartimaeus obeys, telling Jesus that he wants to see again. The man's sight is restored, and Jesus goes on to Jerusalem. Let's not get sidetracked by the healing miracle in this story. Without a doubt it is an important element, but Jesus himself doesn't make much of a fuss about the healing itself. No prayers, no gestures, no exclamations of astonishment from the crowd. Just the faith of a blind man and his cry for compassion. If there's a fuss made in the story, it happens when the crowd tries to silence Bartimaeus and Jesus' call gives him the courage to ask for healing. “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” 

You may have never had an actual crowd rushing around you, or a horde of people yelling at you to shut up, but you have probably felt at times that the people and circumstances in your life were trying to choke you into silence, trying to strangle your pleas for divine help. So much busyness, so much worry, so many problems with no relief in sight. Everyone clamoring for attention: family and friends in need; co-workers demanding your time and energy; sick and dying relatives; bill-collectors, banks, the IRS, and a whole gang of others grasping at you to notice them, care for them, give them what they want. In the middle of this small chaos, there you are—exhausted; your mind addled; your spirit on the verge of collapse; no where to hide. Like Bartimaeus, you need to be healed, so you cry out, “Son of David, have pity on me!” And all those nagging, clamoring voice say, “Be quiet! You're embarrassing us and yourself. Just shut up and deal with it! We were here first.” Hearing your plea above the racket of the crowd, Christ says, “Call him. Call her.” The voices change. Now they say, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” 

Courage is the good habit of doing the right thing even when you are scared witless. Or even when you are exhausted—physically, mentally, spiritually. Or even when you think the right thing to do is foolish, dangerous, or just plain dumb. Bartimaeus cries out for Christ's compassion while being rebuked by a mob. He cries out twice for pity, and Jesus responds by crying out for him. The man's courageous pleas are heard and answered, and his public expressions of faith restore his sight. He is healed and he does the only thing he can to express his gratitude: he follows Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus doesn't know what waits of our Lord in the Holy City. Jesus knows and we know. To follow him all the way to the cross is foolish, dangerous, exhausting, and probably just plain dumb. But we've been called by Christ himself to follow. So, “take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”

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Coffee Bowl Browsing (Humor Edition)

Nazi break dancing. . .they even have parachute pants.

Fear the green gelatinous invader from space. . .fear it, I say!

Face swap pics. . .these things are beyond creepy.

Sadly, this is probably true. . .the part about the coffee, I mean. . .not that other part.  Ahem.

Top jokes from around the world. . .my fav is from Belgium.  Says a lot, uh?

What love means, according to 4-8 y.o.'s.  Ahhhhhhhh. . .

A new and improved traffic light.  This is a fantastic idea.

A closer (much closer) look at everyday objects. . .freaky, dude.

Great quotes. . ."Some mornings, it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps."  Emo Phillips

Goat says, "Hi."

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02 March 2011

Heroes or slaves?

8th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

In the ancient Greek epics, heroes usually fall from the grace of the gods because they suffer from some deadly character flaw, typically pride. When the hero falls, we say that he has suffered a great tragedy. What at first appears to be his primary strength, say, confidence or fortitude, turns out to be hubris that leads him to challenge the gods, or simple stubbornness that causes him to ignore wise counsel. The moral lesson from the epics is that there is a very fine line between virtue and vice, between that good habits that make a man a hero and the bad habits that turn him into a tragic figure. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, ask Jesus to be honored in his glory with places at his right and left. They make this request immediately after Jesus describes what will happen to him in Jerusalem—arrest, ridicule, torture, and death. Jesus warns them, “You do not know what you are asking.” In their ignorance, James and John make a request that others might see as virtuous, “Lord, we want to be with you in heaven.” However, they have yet to realize what asking to be honored in heaven—honored above the other disciples—really means. So that James and John may not fall b/c of their fatal flaw, Jesus tells them that they must follow him to Jerusalem and the cross. But even if they manage this, only the Father can assign places of honor in heaven. So that their lives in Christ might not end in tragedy—a defeat caused by a fatal character flaw—Jesus says to the disciples (and us), “. . .whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” To be heroes in heaven, we must first be slaves on earth.

When the Zebedee brothers ask Jesus for places of honor in heaven, he tests them with a question, “Can you drink the chalice that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They answer, perhaps a little too quickly, “We can.” But we have to wonder if they really understand what this means. The chalice that Jesus drinks is the chalice of the Suffering Servant, the cup of sacrifice. His baptism is the baptism of repentance of sin. Jesus is asking the brothers if they willing to suffer as he will suffer; if they are willing to be perfect as he himself is perfect. They accept the challenge, and when the other disciples hear about the brothers' request for special treatment, they become indignant. Apparently, the other ten disciples don't really understand exactly what it is that the brothers have agreed to. Jesus seems to calm their indignation by saying, “. . .whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” And just in case he's not being clear enough, Jesus adds, “. . .the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If the disciples believe that being in the Inner Circle is a privilege or a mark of worldly status, this revelation should set them straight. They've not attached themselves to a powerful prince or a military leader. They are tied to a slave, a man who will die so that all others might live. His death will be a ransom, a sum paid to free prisoners. Therefore, the mark of leadership in the Body of Christ is never to be worldly glory or honor or prestige but sacrificial service. 

Never have we been promised a place of honor in heaven for following Christ. We have not been promised prosperity, health, recognition, or even holiness. If we drink his chalice and take his baptism, we have been promised nothing more than what he himself has already received: persecution, ridicule, torture, death, and resurrection and life in the world to come. Our Greek heroes have taught us that there is a fine line btw virtue and vice. Jesus teaches us that there is a fine line btw seeking the glory of this world and the glory of heaven. Will you follow Christ? Then give your life as a ransom for all those enslaved to sin.

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01 March 2011

What is grace? Five Explanations

1.  from the Catechism (nos. 1997 & 1999)

Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.

The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification. . .

2. from The Catholic Encyclopedia ("sanctifying grace")

Grace, in general, is a supernatural gift of God to intellectual creatures (men, angels) for their eternal salvation, whether the latter be furthered and attained through salutary acts or a state of holiness. Eternal salvation itself consists in heavenly bliss resulting from the intuitive knowledge of the Triune God, who to the one not endowed with grace "inhabiteth light inaccessible" (1 Timothy 6:16). . .sanctifying grace imparts to the soul a participation in the Divine spirituality, which no rational creature can by its own unaided powers penetrate or comprehend. It is, therefore, the office of grace to impart to the soul, in a supernatural way, that degree of spirituality which is absolutely necessary to give us an idea of God and His spirit, either here below in the shadows of earthly existence, or there above in the unveiled splendour of Heaven. If we were asked to condense all that we have thus far been considering into a definition, we would formulate the following: Sanctifying grace is "a quality strictly supernatural, inherent in the soul as a habitus, by which we are made to participate in the divine nature."

3. from The Catholic Encyclopedia ("Teaching of St Augustine of Hippo")

. . .Augustine distinguishes very explicitly two orders of grace: the grace of natural virtues (the simple gift of Providence, which prepares efficacious motives for the will); and grace for salutary and supernatural acts, given with the first preludes of faith. The latter is the grace of the sons; the former is the grace of all men, a grace which even strangers and infidels can receive (De Patientiâ, xxvii, n. 28).

4.  from St Augustine ("On Rebuke and Grace")

For the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord must be apprehended—as that by which alone men are delivered from evil, and without which they do absolutely no good thing, whether in thought, or will and affection, or in action; not only in order that they may know, by the manifestation of that grace, what should be done, but moreover in order that, by its enabling, they may do with love what they know.

5.   from Pope Benedict XVI (Spe salvi, nos. 44 & 47)

God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. . .the judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

Nos. 1-4 were taken from New Advent.  No. 5 was taken from The Vatican.

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28 February 2011

Sinner says what?

8th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph, Ponchatula

After his disappointing lesson with the rich, young man, Jesus turns to the disciples and announces, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. All this time with their Lord and they had heard him say many times that anyone who believed in him would be saved. Now it appears that he's saying that rich people will have a tough time getting into heaven. Can't rich people believe in him? What is it about being rich that prevents the rich from believing in Christ? Apparently, their shocked expressions prompt Jesus to continue, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” The disciples are exceedingly astonished at this revelation, so they ask the question we all want answered, “Aright then, who can be saved?” Jesus answers in his usual enigmatic fashion, leaving the question to rest in mystery, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” In other words, men and women—rich or poor—do not save themselves by their actions. It is God who saves us. Though we cannot save ourselves, we can condemn ourselves. Wealth is just one of the many burdens that we refuse to put up down in order to take up the cross and follow Christ.

The gospel this morning highlights two essential elements of the Christian understanding of salvation. First, we are saved by God, and God alone—not our words, works, thoughts, or status in life. God alone. Second, anyone who surrenders to Christ, picks up his cross, and follows him, is saved. Though the reading focuses on the rich, young man and his attachment to wealth, there are any number of burdens that we might carry that prevent us from taking part in God's plan of salvation. Think in terms of your favorite sins. Think of these sins as your preferred ways of clinging to disobedience, your preferred means of staying away from God. The Lord invites you to His heavenly banquet, and you say, “No thanks, I'm busy accumulating wealth.” Or violating my marriage vows; or hating my neighbor; or seeking vengeance against an enemy; or wallowing in despair. If you find yourself eternally separated from God's love after death, then you were too busy separating yourself from His love while you lived. 

Who then can be saved? Everyone. Everyone can be saved. There is no one who can't be saved. Whether or not everyone will be saved is a mystery to be solved only after Judgment Day. Today, right now, every person on the planet is eligible for salvation. Christ died once for all—no exceptions. Christ died for the rich, young man, but the man's possessions possessed him, so he was not free to follow Christ. He was free to surrender his wealth, but he chose to live as a wealthy slave to temporary riches rather than as a poor slave to the permanent wealth of heaven. As he watches the young man walk away, Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” What's “hard” is not the wealth itself but the decision whether or not to surrender wealth in favor of poverty, the kind of poverty necessary to travel along behind Jesus on his journey to the cross in Jerusalem.

What “wealth” possesses you? A wealth of anxiety or doubt? A wealth of infidelity or spiritual cowardice? Maybe a wealth of self-righteousness or a cold heart? Whatever it is, surrender it. With so much to carry, with so many attachments, you will never make it through the narrow gate. Put it all down, pick up the cross, and follow Christ.

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Say it ain't so!  My beloved Wal-Mart is knuckling under to lefty bullying.  Sigh.  Guess Dollar General will get my money from now on.

The Cardinal Mahony era is over.  Long live Archbishop Gomez!  He needs our prayers. . .

Which party gets the most money from the national teachers' unionsFive of the top ten contributors to political parties were unions.  Guess which party rec'd the most money?

Ever heard of the Paleo Diet?  Basically, you eat nothing that our paleolithic ancestors couldn't eat (domesticated grains, processed foods, etc.).  If I weren't living in a religious community most of the year where I have almost no control over the food we eat, I'd try it! 

The current political meme coming from the Left is that the GOP/Tea Party is controlled by big corporate money.  Check out these charts for the 2008 election cycle.  Business interests split their contributions almost evenly btw the two parties.  Unions gives 98% of their money to just one party. 

Fr. John, pastor of St Joseph's, has put me in charge of introducing the new Missal translation to the parish.  We've rec'd several announcements from Catholic publishers asking us to consider buying their versions of the new Missal.  I've been deeply disappointed in the cover art of most.

One of the many dangers of public sector unions:  police in Madison threaten to disobey the law.

". . .public employment is an idealized socialist economy in miniature, including its political aspect: the grateful recipients of government largesse provide money and organizational support to re-elect the politicians who shower them with all of these benefits."  Exactly.

Amen!  Driving in Memphis, TN is like dodging really big bullets with wheels.  

Still of one my all time favorite pics. . .

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27 February 2011

The Perfect Priest

I lifted this from Fr. Z.,

The Perfect Priest

The results of a computerized survey indicate the perfect priest preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor. He is 28 years old and has preached 30 years. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens.

The perfect priest smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.

If your priest does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their priest, too. Then bundle up your priest and send him to the church on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 priests and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure.

One parish broke the chain and got its old priest back in less than three weeks.


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Mass Discombobulations (UPDATED)

For some reason, I had a hard time keeping things organized at Mass this morning.

First, the pages of my homily got mixed up. . .even though I had numbered them.  I had numbered them incorrectly.

Second, instead of reading the concluding prayer for the intercessions, I read one of the prayers we had just prayed.

Third, at the Offertory, I accidentally pulled out the ribbon in the Missal that marked the proper prayers for the 8th Sunday in OT.  Took me a while to find my place.

Fourth, I reversed the order of two of the prayers in the Offertory.

Finally, at the announcements, I informed the congregation that Ash Wednesday services would be on Friday, March 9th.  The director of the choir piped up and corrected me.  I re-read the announcement. . .making the same mistake again.  When I finally got it right, the congregation gave me a round of applause!

Here's to getting it right at the 5.00pm Mass. 

UPDATE:  except for almost drowning in my own sweat, the 5.00pm went off without a hitch.  

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Expelling the smaller gods of worry

OK. . .this homily was a BIG flop.  Don't know why.  It just was.

8th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

I was sitting on the floor, wedged into a corner with about fifteen of my friends and colleagues leaning in over me. The cards were laid out in the traditional pattern at my feet. I didn't know the question, but I knew the cards and the cards told me that the middle-aged woman sitting cross-legged in front me was considering marriage. Not so unusual until you consider that she was already married. As I always did, I interpreted the cards as they lay—without prejudice or favor—playing the role of fortune-teller as best I could. When I announced the verdict of the cards—death and marriage in her future—, the woman whose future I had just exposed got angry and told me to shut up. She stormed off, throwing a few select curses behind her. Before her spot on the floor got cold, another friend took her place, and I repeated the process. For a couple of months in grad school back in the 90's, I was the departmental Tarot Card reader. My job was to connect these otherwise well-educated people to their murky futures. They were never happy with what I saw and reported; basically, they never happy. Knowing what was coming did little to ease their anxiety, did nothing, really, to help them worry less or succeed more. After a while I stopped bringing my cards to parties. What did Jesus say about a prophet in his own country? Oh yea, he will likely get executed. Knowing your future might help you plan for the inevitable material difficulties that will come your way, but no amount of planning for these difficulties will help you grow closer to God.

What will help you grow closer to God? Jesus says to his disciples, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need [food, clothing, shelter]. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek first His righteous. And then you will be provided with what you need. Not what you want. What you need. But why should be seek God first? Wouldn't it make more sense to get what we need and then we would have the time and leisure to seek after God? It would be much more practical to get settled into a job, a house, a family and then go out looking for the peace that only God can provide. This approach makes perfect sense if we served Mammon rather than God. If security and comfort are our goals, then by all means, let's get secure, let's get comfortable, and then see if there are any holes left to fill in our lives, any tiny, cramped, God-shaped holes that need filling. Of course, what we need more than food, clothing, shelter, and a new car is God. He is our fundamental need, our most basic necessity, the staple without which nothing else really matters. So, if we seek Him first, invite Him into our lives, and listen to all that He has to teach us, then everything else that might come along is a luxury. We serve God, or we serve Mammon. “No one can serve two masters.”

If I were to ask you to stand up and shout out your most difficult spiritual struggle, what do you think we'd hear? Pride. Lack of charity. Sexual temptation. Gossip. Envy. Hatred and anger. Do you think anyone would shout out, “Anxiety! Worry!” Would anyone confess to serving Worry as a god? Would anyone admit to sacrificing their lives on the altar of Anxiety? It could happen. But whether we confess it or not, worry and anxiety are likely among the smaller gods we worship in secret. Do you burn away a day like incense worrying about money? Do you regularly pray the Litany of Anxiety, wishing you had a better job, or that your kids will stay healthy? Maybe you or a loved one is already sick, so you sacrifice a large portion of each day allowing all the possible bad outcomes to roll around in your head? Has it ever occurred to you that worrying about a future you cannot control is a form of worship, a kind of prayer? It is; it's a form of idolatry. Think about this way: your heart, the center of your life, is a tabernacle. Who lives there? Your heart, the center of your being, is a throne. Who sits on that throne? In all likelihood, if you are like most of us, Christ resides in that tabernacle and sits on that throne. . .at least one day a week. The other six days rotate among other, smaller gods: revenge, disordered love, greed, jealousy, maybe joylessness. Since we become what we worship, before long, we are transformed into these sins, wholly given over to them. Then, it takes a massive amount of strength and determination to dislodge these usurpers, a great deal of patience and peace to kick them out of the tabernacle and off the throne. Seek God and His righteousness first and His Spirit will give you all the help you will ever need. 

Jesus says to the disciples, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap. . .yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” The answer is no, we can't. But we might want to ask Jesus if he means that he should lay back and let God do for us all that we could do for ourselves. Tell us, Lord, are you commanding us to kick back and wait for our Father to pour goodies into our laps? Obviously not. Remember: Jesus chose working men to serve as his disciples. And the women who followed Jesus were hard-working housewives and mothers. All perfectly ordinary folks with ordinary lives. Even if Jesus had told them that God would magically conjure food, clothing, and shelter, they would have kept on working as they always had. Jesus' point here is not “Stop providing for yourselves b/c God will give you a handout.” His point is that worrying corrupts our relationship with God; anxiety corrodes our trust in the promises that the Father has made over and over again to care for us. God's people complain that He has forgotten them. The Lord replies through Isiah, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Nor will He abandon us. And we cannot abandon Him for the smaller gods of anxiety and worry. When we serve God, truly put ourselves in His service for His greater glory, and we make His righteousness the only well from which we draw our faith, then not only will He provide for our needs, but He will transform us as well. What we “need” changes. How we experience the world changes. Who we are as His children changes. . .it all changes. 

Seek God and His righteousness first. What comes second, third, fourth, etc. follow from this first quest. Knowing your future might help you plan for the inevitable material difficulties that will come your way, but no amount of planning for these difficulties will help you grow closer to God. Whether you seek to know the future in Tarot cards, or Ouija boards, or stock market reports, or strategic growth forecasts, all your plans—if they become your gods—will inevitably drive Christ from his tabernacle and throne and leave you more anxious than ever. When these smaller gods start to harass you for attention and sacrifice, remember the psalmist singing, “Only in God is my soul at rest. . . Only He is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold. . .Be at rest only in God, my soul, for from him comes my hope. . .Trust in him at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before him!”

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