09 July 2011

What sort of soil are you?

15th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation/Prince of Peace

Jesus sits in a boat. A crowd gathers on the shore of the lake. He preaches to them in parables. He preaches the parable of the Sower of the Seeds. We know it well. Seeds sown by the Sower fall on all sorts of soil—rocky, thorny, shallow. Birds eat some of the seeds. The sun withers the delicate roots of others. A few of the precious seeds are planted firmly in rich soil and they germinate to produce healthy plants, which, in turn, produce abundant fruit. The people in the crowd must understand the parable. They are farmers. They understand that not all the seeds they plant survive the planting, not all the seeds that survive will sprout healthy plants, and not all those plants will produce good fruit. What they probably don't know is that as he's preaching his parable about the Sower, the seeds, and the soils, Jesus is discerning the hearts and minds of his listeners, delving into their spirits, learning who each of them is and why they are there with him on the shore. He sees a thorny mind and a barren heart over there. There a scorched soul and there a shallow spirit. Two or three rich souls are ready now to bear the burden of growing the seeds of his Word. Four or five are prepared to do the work necessary to become rich souls. To these, to those with hearts and minds poised to receive his Word, to these he says, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” 

And what is it that they ought to hear? To Isaiah, the Lord says, “Just as the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return until they have watered the earth, so my word will not return to me empty, but it will do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” The Lord sends rain and snow, making the earth “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats.” His Word is sent as seed to be sown. For those with ears to hear: the Word is sown, the earth watered. Now, what sort of soil are you? Are you shallow like the soil on a well-worn path? Thin, easily blown this way and that? Shallow enough that the birds of every new idea, new trend, new philosophy can come along and eat the seeds you've been given? Perhaps you are rocky soil, hard in places, soft in others. Difficult to till, impossible to tend. Lots of stones, lots of gravel: Regrets, enemies, hatreds, worries. No where for the tender roots of your seeds to sprout? Maybe your soil is choked by thorns. The deadly bush and brambles of habitual sin, cold-heartedness, or a steadfast refusal to find joy? Those thorns will dry up the water of the Lord's grace and starve your seeds. Of course, it is always possible, maybe even probable, that the soil you present for sowing is rich, well-tilled, perfectly watered, and ready for planting! You are ready for conversion, eager even to get down to the risky business of nurturing the seed of God's Word, and verging on impatience to be bear the good fruits of the Holy Spirit! 

So, what sort of soil are you? 

If you're like me, like most of us, I daresay, you are probably thorny on Monday and Tuesday; rocky on Wednesday; shallow on Thursday and Friday; Saturday is a toss up between too hot and too dry; and Sunday is usually just rich enough to receive a few seeds and have them survive past midnight! Even when we have ears to hear the Word, we don't always hear it all nor do we always listen to what we are hearing. If we had been on that beach with the crowd, listening to Jesus, he probably delved into our hearts and minds and found a tangled mess of worries, joys, plans, memories, half-forgotten lessons, and few unpleasant thoughts about our neighbors. Had he lingered for more than a minute, he would have been treated to a rapid-fire montage of resentments, broken promises, gloats, successes, and a lot of static around thoughts of what comes next. Had he stayed with us for a day or two, he would have watched as we flipped from dedicated servants to selfish ingrates to sniveling crybabies to triumphant conquerors, changing almost as fast and as often as we change the stations on our 500 channel cable box. In there somewhere, he would have seen us get a grip on our self-pity and our sense of failure and strangle it with the more powerful conviction that we are masters of our universe. Nothing and no one rules me! And then, later that same day, that megalomaniac would have to be strangled. By what? Humility? Reality? Maybe a little of both? Watching us from the distance of his boat, floating on the sea, our Lord would see us as if we were riding a carousel, flashing by one moment a faithful disciples, the next a desperate child, the next a self-sufficient individual, the next a lonely heart and a cold mind. We are never just one sort of soil.

If it's true that we are never just one sort of soil, then how do we properly receive the seed of God's Word? How do we make sure that we are rich, well-tilled, and perfectly watered when he comes around to sow the seed? One way is quite simple: never be anything but richly nourished, well-tilled, and perfectly watered. But we've covered the improbability of that scenario. It's not impossible, of course. We are finite creatures, prone to the ebb and flow of circumstance, open to injury and insult, given to fits of disobedience, bouts of lacking in trust. All these make being Always Prepared difficult. . .but not impossible. The other option is to be Always Prepared to be Made Ready; that is, since being always prepared seems improbable, always be open to being given everything you need to get ready. At the very least, this means watching for any opportunity to turn yourself around to face God, to repent. Waiting for every chance to forgive and be forgiven, to bless and be blessed, to show mercy, gratitude, trust. It means being eager to step up in the face of gross injustice; to defend the truth of the Good News; to give witness to the goodness that the Lord has shown you; to suffer for another, to love sacrificially. It means remembering, calling to heart and mind, that you are a creature loved by Love Himself, created and re-created to live perfectly in His presence forever. And when you remember this fundamental truth of the faith, when you recall it, you live right then as if you are with Him—face-to-face—at the moment, right that second. Then, you will always be prepared to be made ready to receive the seed of His Word. 

Paul teaches the Romans that “creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” Why? “. . .in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Our glorious freedom is the freedom from sin's constraint, freedom from sin's limitations. We are never freer, more at liberty than when we are prepared to be made ready to receive God's Word. This is edge of our cooperation with His grace: we do all we can do with His help to be the best possible sort of soil and then we go one step more. We surrender. Just give up. Give up worry, anxiety, control, the need to achieve, and then we are ready. In full surrender to the working of His grace, we are best prepared to bear the best fruits. Sixty, seventy, one-hundred-fold. We are ready.

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New arrival. . .

A Mille Grazie to the anonymous Book Benefactor who sent me Epiphanies of Darkness: Deconstruction in Theology. . .it arrived this afternoon. 

I spent the better part of the morning in the priory's self-storage locker opening boxes that haven't seen the light of day sent June of 2008. Since I was only able to ship a few boxes of books to Rome, most of my library had to be stored. Opening those boxes was like Christmas! 

Two items made me tear up a little. One was the very first poetry anthology I ever purchased. Bought it in 1982 at Oxford Square Books when I was a freshmen. The second was a 1987 letter from my paternal grandmother who died from cancer in 1991. I had to leave that one unopened b/c I would've never finished the job had I opened it. 

Anyway! As always. . .I am very, very grateful to my many Book Benefactors. You guys are always at the top of my daily prayer list b/c you have made my life as a Dominican friar all the more exciting and useful by your generosity!

08 July 2011

Enduring Questions, Perfect Answers?

Lovers and Defenders of the western literary/philosophical/theological tradition often point to The Enduring Question of Life as touchstones for all of our humane, liberal studies.  Answering these questions is tantamount to Living Life Well.  I recently ran across an article in a small magazine that attempts to formulate these questions for a postmodern audience; that is, an audience deeply suspicious of Big Narratives like God, Religion, Law, Reason, Purpose, etc., an audience trained in the modernist art of irony, cynicism, and nihilism.  The author's version of the questions precluded answers that Catholics and other Lovers and Defenders would find satisfactory.

Being a Lover and Defender of the Western Tradition and a reader of and thinker about postmodern culture, I thought I'd take a stab at reformulating these same questions w/o the irony, cynicism, etc.

Traditional:  What is man's relationship to God?
PoMo:  What is the relationship between the human person and the divine/transcendent?

Traditional:  What duties are worthy of our commitment to fulfill them?
PoMo:  What are we willing to commit ourselves to wholeheartedly?

Traditional:  What do the lives of heroes teach us about nobility and villainy?
PoMo:  What do the lives of Saints & Sinners teach us about love and mercy?

Traditional:  What does history teach us about liberty and order?
PoMo:  What history teach us about freedom and constraint, responsibility and rights?

Traditional:  What does history teach us about civilization and its decline?
PoMo:  What does history teach us about culture and barbarism, about progress and regress?

My versions aren't all that different from the traditional versions, but I think they open the questions up a bit more and allow a little more room for broader answers.  

Of course, as a Lover and Defender of the Western Tradition, my inclination is to believe that we will find the best answers to these questions in the literature of our ancestors.  Not dogma or formula but rather narratives of how honest men and women dealt with the problems of being human in a world that constantly challenges our innate need for growth toward perfection. 

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Wolves, sheep, doves, & snakes

N.B.  OK.  Here's my excuse for this homily.  Unbeknownst to me. . .my little 10 y.o. travel hardened alarm clock died in the night.  I came-to around 6am!!!  That's TWO hrs later than I usually wake up.  Lauds/Mass begin at 7.45am.  So, by the time the 'puter booted up and the coffee booted me up. . .well, there just wasn't much time.  Therefore:

14 Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Wolves. Sheep. Serpents. And doves. That's quite a zoo living in Jesus' imagination this morning! In the wolf, we see a predator's singular focus on his prey and the cold cruelty of instinct. In the sheep, we have docility, innocence, and the need to be protected. Serpents are cunning, calculating, and dangerously patient. And doves are gentle and pure. Jesus says that he is sending us as prey among the predators, so we must learn to be both shrewd and gentle, both cunning and pure. How do we manage that? Our Lord assures us that when we are handed over to be prosecuted for treason or heresy, we need not worry about what we will say in our defense, “You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” But if we will be given what to say in our own defense at the moment of greatest need, then what is the purpose of learning to be both a serpent and a dove while living as sheep among the wolves? Before we can speak, we must listen.

Sheep are stupid animals. Too stupid to learn much of anything. Wolves are much, much more intelligent but they are largely driven by predatory instinct and not very obedient. So, Jesus is sending us to live as stupid animals among intelligent predators. But we are to be shrewd and gentle. OK. Serpents have a rep for being sly, patient, manipulative, so they would probably make good students but dangerous friends. Doves don't exactly inspire wonder with their smarts, but they are beautiful and they have a history of showing up at just the right time. Since the Spirit of the Father will be given to us when we need Him, our serpentine cunning and dove-like gentleness aren't really meant to be primary defenses against the wolves. Our primary defense is the Holy Spirit! Shrewdness and gentleness prepare us to receive the Spirit of the Father and to speak His Word. To receive His Spirit requires docility, and to speak His Word in the Spirit requires ingenuity. To receive His Spirit requires the peace of obedience, and to speak His Word in the Spirit requires the determination of a predator hunting his prey. 

Wolves will never fear sheep. Nor stop hunting them. And sheep will always need a shepherd to protect them. The Holy Spirit is our protector, and if we will hear Him speak to us, we will grow in obedience, docility, and trust. We will also strengthen our resolve to be preachers of the truth; to be wily promoters of God's justice and glowing examples of His mercy.  The Spirit of the Father will not speak with the voice of a hungry wolf or a sneaky snake. He chooses His sheep—sheep who are prepared (with His abundant help) to speak His Word and see It done. That is how we will endure.

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07 July 2011

Father, where are you preaching. . .?

Mass/Preaching schedule this weekend:

Sat., July 9:  Church of the Incarnation (U.D., Irving)  5.00pm

Sun., July 10:  Church of the Incarnation (U.D., Irving)  9.00am

Sun., July 10:  Prince of Peace (Plano)  5.00pm

This schedule will be updated.

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05 July 2011

What young men considering the priesthood want. . .

Fr. Z. has a post up listing 10 things that young men considering the priesthood are looking for in their future vocation (red).  Since I can't resist a list, my (cranky) comments follow:

1. Prospective priests (Religious or Diocesan) are not looking primarily for community life, as we live it. They are looking for a Church-related mission that they believe in.

Not entirely sure what this means.  If "as we live it" means "not living it," then I understand.  Community life is extraordinarily difficult and living community life with a group of priests who are working in full-time ministry is nearly impossible.  In every situation where I've lived in a community attached to a parish, the parish schedule rules the priory schedule and we risk becoming diocesan priests living in the same building.

2. Prospective priests want to know what the Pope teaches, not what the U.N. teaches.

Nor do they care a fig for what the "social justice" bureaucrats of the order/diocese say they ought to be worried about.  Most are fine with recycling, just immigration laws, ending human trafficking, etc. but they also want to hear about justice issues from perspectives other than just the Religious Left.

3. Prospective priests do not want to sit around with older “veterans” and listen to the latter whine about the Pope, Rome and the bishops.

Nor do they want to listen to these same vets applaud pro-abortion, pro-SSM, etc. politicians during recreation time in front of the TV or at table.  

4. Prospective priests are not in favor of women’s ordination. Period.

A view they had best keep quiet about until after ordination!  The "Spirit of Vatican Two" cadre of theological revolutionaries will not go out w/o a fight.  Smile.  Tell them what they want to hear.  Get through.  I know, I know. . .hardly seems honest.  Think of it as "learning stress-coping skills" for your future ministry. 

5. Prospective priests do not want to attend Masses that resemble hootenannies, Quaker meetings, or Presbyterian services.

Nor--I hope--are they inordinately focused/obsessed with prissy liturgical ornamentation, mechanized rubrical obedience, and clerical fashion.  The habit/collar does not make the friar/priest.  Never has, never will. 

6. Prospective priests are not ashamed of the Pro-life movement, they’re for it.

And they are just as ready and willing to help women who have had abortions recover from their mistake.

7. Prospective priests do not want to hear their brothers mock the Pope and gripe about liturgical norms.

Nor do they want--I hope--tedious lectures on the liturgical arcana of the Extraordinary Form as it was celebrated in 16th century Italy. 

8. Prospective priests do not want to study at theological unions/seminaries that are embarrassed by Catholic teaching.

And they are tired of the feminist identity politics, the hermeneutics of suspicion, the historical-critical method, "the pastoral solution," inculturation of the liturgy, pantheistic spirituality, and the bullying that comes with the triumphalist lay-empowerment movement (i.e., Lay = Good, Clergy = Bad).

9. Prospective priests know that Vatican II was not the only, or even the most important, Ecumenical Council.

And they also know to ask their professors, "Dr. Jones, where is that in the documents of the council, please?"  Oh, they have a copy of the documents in Latin so they can check the (often dubious) English translation.
10. Prospective priests are not embarrassed by Marian devotion, and are seen praying the Rosary.

But they are not so enamored by Marian devotion that they forget our Blessed Mother's proper place in salvation history as the human vehicle for bring forth the Word Made Flesh, i.e. she's not the fourth member of the Trinity.

Missing from the list is:  "Prospective priests want instruction on how to preach courageously to a contemporary congregation w/o offending or alienating half their people or pandering to the lowest common denominator."

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04 July 2011

Coffee Cup Browsing

Gaza Flotilla (a.k.a. "Ridiculous Leftist P.R. Stunt of the Week") is stopped by the Greek gov't.  Who knew the Greek gov't had that much sense?

B.O.'s own economics team reports that the "stimulus" costs $278,000/job "created or saved." 

Christian preacher battered and abused by a largely Muslim crowd. . .in Iran?  Yemen?  No.  Dearborn, MI. 

Episcopal parish comes home to Rome.  Watch for more of this as the E.C. continues its slow suicide.

Like ancient Rome, the postmodern West is increasingly "polytheistic, proud, anti-Christian, sexually confused, with rampant infanticide, frequent wars, incivility and cruelty, and a general breakdown of family loyalties."  Are we prepared for martyrdom? 

Three ways to declare your independence from the federal/state Nannies. . .

Big brothers are the same across species.

Oh, that explains it. . .

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03 July 2011

Ambushed in the Bookstore

Went to Half-Priced Books this afternoon to browse the philosophy and poetry selections.

While looking through the poetry anthologies, a young man walked behind and said something I didn't quite catch.   

--Sorry.  I didn't hear you.

--What church do you go to?

I thought he must recognize me from Mass, or maybe from U.D.  He seemed harmless, if a little addled.

--What church do I go to?


--Well, I go to the priory.

--OK.  Do you family and friends go to church?

By this time I've figured out that this is a Religious Ambush, and I ain't playin'.

--Yes.  They all do.

--Good.  What's the priory?

--It's where I live.  I'm a Catholic priest and a Dominican friar.

--Oh. . .(long pause with an anxious look). . .have you read Revelations 17 lately?

--Lately?  No, can't say I have.

--Do you know the name of the city in that chapter?

--Let me guess:  Rome?

--Yes.  Now that you are old enough to make your own choice, you should re-read that chapter.

My brain is whirling now.  I'm trying to decide if I really wanna do this.  Do I want to confront this guy with his historically illiterate fundamentalism and challenge him on his anti-Catholic bigotry?  He doesn't strike me as being very open to discussion and the last thing I want is a public shouting match. 

I chicken out. . .

--OK.  I will.

He nods and walks off.

What would you have done?

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