30 December 2012

Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty

From the USCCB: Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty

Join the Movement

  • What: The U.S. bishops have approved a pastoral strategy to advance a Movement for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. It is essentially a call to prayer, penance, and sacrifice for the sake of renewing a culture of life, marriage, and religious liberty in our country. Click here for a one-page handout about the Call to Prayer that is suitable for use as a bulletin insert or flyer.
Unprecedented challenges call for increased awareness and formation, as well as spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful.
  • Why: The well-being of society requires that life, marriage, and religious liberty are promoted and protected. Serious threats to each of these goods, however, have raised unprecedented challenges to the Church and to the nation. Two immediate flashpoints are the following:

    First is the HHS Mandate, which requires almost all employers, including Catholic employers, to pay for employees' contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs regardless of conscientious objections. This is a clear affront to America's first freedom, religious liberty, as well as to the inherent dignity of every human person.

    Second, current trends in both government and culture are moving toward redefining marriage as the union of any two persons, ignoring marriage's fundamental meaning and purpose as the universal institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with the children born from their union. These challenges call for increased awareness and formation, as well as spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful, so that we may all be effective and joyful witnesses of faith, hope and charity. 
  • When: In this Year of Faith, starting on the feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 30, 2012) until the feast of Christ the King (Nov. 24, 2013)
  • Who: All of the Catholic faithful are encouraged to participate
  • Where: Throughout the entire country; at your local parish, cathedral, school or home
 How To Participate: 5 Ways:

1. Host or attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour on the last Sunday of each month
2. Pray a daily Rosary
3. Prayers of the Faithful at daily and Sunday Masses
4. Abstain from meat on Fridays and fast on Fridays
  • For the intention of the protection of life, marriage and religious liberty
  • The practice of fasting: The general practice of fasting allows a person to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may be taken, not to equal one full meal.
  • "The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church's penitential practice." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1438
  • For more information on fasting and abstinence, see the USCCB Fast & Abstinence page
5. Participate in the 2nd Fortnight for Freedom (June/July 2013)
  • Goal: A visible, vibrant reminder of the God-given nature of religious liberty, the right to bring our faith into the public square, and the rights of individuals and institutions to conduct their professional lives according to their religious convictions
  • Key issue: Potential Supreme Court rulings on marriage in June 2013
  • Key issue: The need for conscience protection in light of the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate
  • Key issue: Religious liberty concerns in other areas, such as immigration, adoption, and humanitarian services

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Holy Families Meditation

From 2009:

Something to think about on this Holy Family Sunday. . .

Trinitarian Family:  Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Holy Family:  Jesus, Mary, Joseph

Eschatological Family:  Christ & Church

Social Family: Individual, family, State*

Ecclesial Family:  Bishop, priest, deacon, laity

Domestic Family:  Mom, Dad, kids, etc.

Individual Family:  body, soul, spirit

Now, starting at the top with the Trinitarian Family, move down the list of families and mediate on how each familial relationship is a more perfect relationship than the one below it.**

Then, starting at the bottom with the Individual Family, move up the list of families and mediate on how each familial relationship is an imperfect reflection of the one above it.

How does the more perfect familial relationships help perfect/complete the imperfect/incomplete familial relationships?

Report your findings.

*I added this one after getting feedback from knowledgeable HA readers.
** "more perfect" here is a way of saying "more complete given X's telos"

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28 December 2012

Christmas Update

Christmas dinner was a lot of fun.  My family is loud, boisterous, and very funny.  The main course was casserole.  Many casseroles gave up their lives for our celebrations.  Oh, and there was ham. 

Going to see The Hobbit this afternoon with a friend from my seminary days.  

If I manage to sit still for 3hrs it will be a miracle.

Yesterday I took The Nieces out to do a little post-Christmas shopping.  I can honestly say that this was my first time shopping with two teenage girls in a costume jewelry store. Who knew such a thing even existed???

When I left NOLA on the 25th it was 74 degrees.  Now it is 33 in N. MS. Truly, I made some bad wardrobe choices.  Yikes.

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26 December 2012

Rain, wind, snow. . .home at last!

Made it home yesterday (25th) right on time. . .

Just as I got a little north of Ponchatoula, LA a line of thunderstorms let loose. I managed to stay a ahead of the worst of it until I got to Jackson, MS.

Then. . .POW!. . .torrential rain, wind, lightning/thunder. Yikes! Cars on I-55 were creeping along at 35-40MPH. At one point I hit a spot of deep water and skidded. Needless to say, my prayer life intensified at that moment.

Radio stations all along the way were broadcasting those blaring/honking emergency messages about tornadoes. Just to enhance my harrowing driving experience, I listened to several screaming Pentecostal preachers railing against the world. How anyone manages to get that level of intensity and volume going for long is a mystery.

About thirty minutes north of Jackson, the rain stopped and all was well under I got home. Scuba Mom had a plate of homemade pralines waiting for me.  :-)

There's a light coating on snow on the ground this morning. 

The Redneck Squirrels are still in hiding. Chickens.

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25 December 2012

The Nativity: God's plan to bring you home

Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity (Day)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We start: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” Let there be day and night; let there be water above and water below; let be sky and earth; beasts wild and tame, birds, and crawling things; and let there be Man, male and female, created in the image and likeness of their Creator. With God, at the beginning, when He created everything that is, was the Word, and “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” It is this Word-at-the-beginning that we come together this morning to honor, adore, and welcome. Not the Word in majesty and splendor; not the Word in his brilliant glory, but the Word-given-flesh: the child, Jesus Christ, the infant son of Joseph and Mary. His birth among us reveals a narrow path, a way and a means back to God's glory and truth. To those who receive him he gives power to become children of God. 

We honor, adore, and welcome Christ-dwelling-us; we accept and receive him as Lord so that we may become children of God. Of all the ways available to God to make us into His children, why did He choose to send His only-begotten Son among us as a child? The complete answer to this question won't be available to us until we see God face-to-face; however, our Holy Father, Benedict, gives us a glimpse, a partial answer. In his Midnight Mass homily in Rome yesterday, the Holy Father said, “. . .it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him. . .It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you. . .So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.” We must remember that the incarnation of the Son was not the first time that God had tried to bring His human creatures back to Him. He appeared in glory to Moses. He guided His people out of slavery in Egypt as a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke. He sent one prophet after another to accuse His people of spiritual adultery and injustice and preach repentance. He sent the Law and demanded obedience. And over and over again, His people misheard, misread, disobeyed, rebelled. And over and over again, He forgave them and restored them to His grace. What we needed was a permanent solution. 

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews notes this turbulent history and points to just such a solution: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son. . .” All that had been revealed by God before the birth of the Christ is partial, incomplete. Just quick glimpses behind the veil that separates the Creator from His creation. With imperfect knowledge, and using broken human nature, we were unable to come fully back to God, unable to achieve—even with the help of the Law and the Prophets—we were unable to attain the perfection we were made to enjoy. Having willed that we once again enjoy the original justice of the Garden, God saw that it would be good for us to have perfect knowledge of His plan and a mended human nature to use this knowledge. To achieve this, He made the unique and final revelation of His plan for our salvation into a flesh and bone human child. Not only would this child show us the way back to God, he would be the way back, the only way back to our Eden. The key to His plan is the Christ Child and the virginal teenaged girl who gave him birth. 

What does the Christ Child reveal to us? John writes, “From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” From the fullness of Christ—from this one divine person with two natures: one human, one divine—from his fullness, we have been given one gift upon another, one grace after another. We have been given perfect human knowledge of God's plan for our salvation from sin and death. We have been given a map to follow along the Way. We have been given the Truth of this world and our place in the world to come. We have been given Life and life eternal. And we have been given all this for no reason than that God loves us as His children and wills that we live with Him forever. All there is to do is to freely receive all that He has freely given and then dwell as Christ does among the living and the dead. To make our reception of these gifts both fearless and complete, God sent His only-begotten Son to live among us as one of us. And he gifted us with a Blessed Mother who bears us up to His throne as one of her own to commend to us to His mercy. Christ and his mother bring into this world the unique and final revelation of God. 

We start again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” His light shines in the darkness of sin and death, showing all who choose to see a Way to Truth and Life. For those who choose to see, and in seeing choose to follow, he makes a promise of life eternal. And so, we gather here this morning to honor, adore, and welcome him among us as one of us. And in eating his body and drinking his blood, we pledge ourselves to leave this place, taking him out into the world as a wonder and a revelation. God the Father through the Holy Spirit placed the Son in the virginal womb of Mary. She is our mother and our model when she says to Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Leave this place then with your heart and mind left open to her example; leave here knowing, feeling, and believing that God loves you and wants you to live with Him forever. Leave here with the Blessed Mother's surrender resounding in your body and soul. And come back—again and again—to give Him thanks for His Christ, to give Him praise for His plan to bring you home. 

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24 December 2012

Merry Christmas (from the squirrels)

A Very Merry Christmas to all HancAquam readers!

Your prayers this year have been exceedingly fruitful. . .more on this later.

It has been my privilege to think/pray/preach with you this last year.

May God's blessings flow freely over you and may you have the good sense to receive them!  ;-)

I am off to MS to dwell amongst the squirrels for a few days.  There will be pecan pie, sweet potato casserole, and lots of HGTV, no doubt.

Please, continue praying for me and mine as we grow in holiness!

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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God is with us (Vigil)

Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity (Vigil)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Every religion in human history has its prophets, mystics, saints, avatars, bodhisattvas, miracle-workers, and gurus. By whatever name they are called, these human-divine combos serve the same general purpose: to bring the natural world of man into closer contact with the supernatural world of the divine. The idea seems to be that closer human contact with the divine will somehow “save” or “redeem” or “enlighten” the lost, the ignorant, and the just plain evil among us. Most religious traditions claim to be founded on revelation or some sort of mystical experience. Most have the expected accoutrements of worship: clergy, laity, sacred texts, prayer, temples/churches, vestments, etc. And most claim a certain exclusive access to universal truth and goodness. However, of all the religions currently practiced in the world, only one claims to follow an incarnated god; only one can credibly claim that its founder and central figure of worship walked among us a person, fully human and fully divine. We call the arrival this person in human history, “The Nativity of the Lord.” And it is this event that we remember and celebrate this evening. Once again, we welcome the Christ, Emmanuel, “God is with us.” 

For our welcome to be truly sincere, it's important that we understand—to the degree possible—who it is that we are welcoming among us. A good start on this understanding would be to identify who we are NOT welcoming. We are not welcoming a person who is half and half, half human and half divine. Nor is he man with a human body and divine soul. Nor is he really just a man with a divine mind; nor a god who has taken on the appearance of a man. Or, as the current theological fashion argues, an enlightened man who had evolved beyond being merely human. The Church has considered all of these possibilities and rejected them as heresy. In fact, all of these possibilities for understanding the nature of Christ were rejected in the year 451 A.D. by the Council of Chalcedon. For at least 1,561 years, the Church has taught and defended a single view on the nature of the Christ, the Chalcedonian Formula. This formula explains part of the Nicene Creed: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father. . .” Christ is consubstantial with the Father, meaning Christ and the Father are of the same substance, the identical divine nature. Thus, Emmanuel, “God is with us,” is the perfect name for Christ. 

Now, why in the world am I pestering you on Christmas Eve with a mini-lecture on christology? Well, here's why: the Chalcedonian Formula does more than simply define the true nature of Christ—tell us who Christ is. By telling us who Christ is, the formula also tells us Christ's purpose—what it is he came among us to do. And giving us these two bits of info about Christ helps us to welcome him with true sincerity. The Formula reveals that Jesus Christ is a divine person, the Son of God, with two natures: one human and one divine. By comparison, each one of us is a human person with just one nature, human. Because Christ is a divine person with both a divine and a human nature, he is uniquely placed in our salvation history to be the one (and the only one) to bring us into full union with God. Here's how the CCC puts it: “The Word became flesh to make us 'partakers of the divine nature'.” Then quoting St. Athanasius, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (n. 460). So, when we welcome Christ among us at his Nativity, we also welcome among us our only means of attaining perfect union with our heavenly Father. 

Knowing all this, we might ask: what was preventing the possibility of perfect union before Christ's nativity? Simply put: sin; or rather, no perfect means of forgiving sin. Look at the gospel. Joseph is thinking about divorcing Mary b/c she's pregnant before they have consummated their betrothal. In a dream, an angel of the Lord visits Joseph and lays out for him exactly who it is that his wife is carrying in her womb. The angel says, “Joseph do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Thus, we have the two natures of Christ: the divine from the H.S. and the human from Mary, herself immaculately conceived. The angel continues, “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The divine person of Christ is the means by which God's people are saved from their sins, the sins that prevent us from being in perfect union with the Father. Again, we not only welcome the birth of the Christ Child tonight, we also welcome the birth of the possibility of becoming a child of God as well. The first step along this path is to open your heart and mind to the H.S. and follow Mary's humble example, saying with her, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” 

This resounding “fiat” highlighted Mary in history like no other woman had ever been before or since. She has been known through the centuries by many exalted titles and she is known now by many more: God-bearer, Mother of God; Mater Dolorosa, Mater Gloriosa; Mediatrix of All Graces; and Queen of Heaven. Though all theologically sound and historically accurate, these titles tempt us to forget a vital fact. We must remember—especially on the eve of Christ's nativity—that Mary was a teenaged girl, a virgin betrothed to Joseph and placed at the center of a cosmic drama that brought to fulfillment some 5,000 yrs of God's plans for mankind. If we welcome among us tonight the birth of the Christ Child, then we must also gives our thanks to Mary for her faithfulness, her courage, and her strength in the face of what we can only imagine was a harrowing adventure, a truly frightening and rewarding journey toward perfection. She is the model for how the Church best responds to the Father's invitation to live with Him forever. And as such, she is also the model of each one of us as we choose and pursue the narrow path toward holiness. 

We give Emmanuel a sincere welcome. We give thanks to Mary. We offer the Father our praise and the H.S. an invitation. And as we continue our welcome, we also pray. What should we pray for on this Holy Night? The Chief Shepherd of the Church, Pope Benedict, urges us to pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.” 

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23 December 2012

Awaiting his coming in peace

4th Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Through his prophet, Micah, the Lord God promises, “. . .from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. . .He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD. . .he shall be peace.” This promise was made almost 800 years before the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem. Between the making of this promise and the birth of Christ, eighteen generations of God's people waited and waited and waited for its fulfillment. And when the Lord God placed His only-begotten Son in the virginal womb of a teenaged Mary, and she bore him into the world as a squalling baby in a barn, who could blame God's people for their disappointment and their turning away to wait some more? Rulers are born to kings and queens. Strength comes from wealth. Peace is settled with a sword. Babies born to working class bumpkins from the sticks do not grow up to rule God's people. And so, the waiting continues. For those of us who see in the Christ Child a ruler of strength and peace, the wait is almost over. Just two days and our wait is over. Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. Blessed are those who wait upon the Lord. 

Speaking strictly for myself, patience is not a virtue; it's more like a penance, a trial, or even a punishment. Being patient requires a level of “letting go” that I find extraordinarily difficult to master. Over the years, I've gotten better at enduring the obvious flaws of others. No one's perfect after all. Me included. But, of course, my own flaws never inconvenience anyone else. The truest test of patience ever invented by the Devil is called “Driving in New Orleans.” Second to this test is the one called “Parking in New Orleans.” Either one of these tests alone would wear a hole in the patience of the Virgin herself and both of them together would likely cause Jesus to return in the Apocalypse earlier than planned. Fortunately, for the sake of my holiness and humility, I am tested often enough to notice that patience in waiting can—sometimes—actually be virtue: the good habit of letting go and waiting upon the Lord. If Lent is that time before Easter when we are consigned to wait upon the Lord's resurrection, then Advent is our time to wait upon his birth. As Christians, our waiting is not polluted by impatience. We know he is coming. Rather, our patient waiting is flavored by anticipation. 

Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. What has the Lord spoken to us? What word of His do we believe will be fulfilled? Through His prophet, Micah, He says, “. . .from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. . .He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord. . .he shall be peace.” He also says through Micah, “. . .the Lord will give [Israel] up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne. . .” The time between the delivery of this prophecy and its fulfillment in the delivery of the Christ Child by Mary is the Advent of Israel, that long season of waiting between hearing the good news of a future Messiah and his arrival among us. Eight hundred years of anticipation, eight hundred years of waiting and waiting. If hopeful anticipation spices the main event, then the birth of Christ was well-seasoned! However, we know that his arrival—his humble start—was a disappointment to most of those who had patiently stood by. Perhaps they had forgotten the last sentence of what the Lord had said to Micah about the coming of the Messiah, “He shall be peace.” What sort of king comes to deliver his people from oppression using a sword of peace? 

God's people waited for eight hundred years for the coming of the promised Messiah. Some—those who do not follow the Christ—wait still. And even though the Messiah has been born to the virgin as prophesied, and even though we who follow Christ no long wait for his arrival in history, we still wait for the advent of his universal peace. We don't need a recitation of recent global and domestic events to know that we are far from the peace promised by the birth of the Savior. If anything, violence and death seem to be taking the upper hand. It is not too much for us ask: how much more strain can civilization bear before it cracks and falls apart? When we ask questions like this, and when we expect answers in concrete terms (days, weeks, months), we tend to forget that as followers of the Prince of Peace our hope, the fulfillment of God's promise of peace, is not to be found on a watch or a calendar. It's not found in the workings of the State, the laboratory, the classroom, or the battlefield. Our hope, the fulfillment of God's promise of peace, rests solely in the kingdom Christ brought with him to that barn in Bethlehem, the same kingdom he will bring to completion when he comes again. “He shall be peace,” and he is our peace until he comes again.

There's an obvious danger to this way of thinking. If we are simply waiting for the universal peace of Christ to arrive when he comes again, then we can be sorely tempted to adopt a “do-nothing” quietism; that is, we are poked and prodded by the sheer overwhelming horror of violence and death to stand aside and gamble our lives away on the off-chance that God will “do something” about this mess. So often we hear people ask after a disaster, “Where was God?” The assumption being that if God really existed or really cared, none of this horrible stuff would've happened. We waited on your help, Lord, and you never showed. Perhaps the most frustrating part of being a follower of Christ is knowing that help for our world is coming but that it did not arrive in time. Of course, help did arrive in time. He arrived 2,000 years ago as a child born in a barn. What we are waiting on now is our own growth in holiness, our own progress toward the righteousness that he made possible by his death and resurrection. If we want peace now, if we want help now, then we must be that help and that peace in his name. We cannot be both freed from our fallen nature by grace AND free from the consequences of that fallen nature. If we will be free to follow him in peace, then in peace we must follow His will and word. 

Just two days and our wait is over. Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. Blessed are those who wait with anticipation upon the Lord. Elizabeth blesses Mary b/c Mary believed Gabriel's word to her. She says Yes to being the Mother of the Christ Child and comes down to us in the faith as the Blessed Virgin Mary. For an example of humility and peace, we need to look no further than the fervor with which this teenaged girl freely accepted the harrowing mission of bearing the Word made flesh into the world. As a good Jewish woman, Mary knows words of the prophets. She knows who it is she is carrying in her womb. She runs to Elizabeth in haste to greet her cousin, and all of her hopes are fulfilled when Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” With the birth of Christ 2,000 yrs ago and with our celebration of his Nativity in two days time, we too are blessed. We have seen the glory of God in the face of a child and what we saw there has freed us to await the coming of his peace. 

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On being temporally cheated

I need an alarm clock with bigger LED numbers.

Woke up this morning, glanced at my clock:  3:55.

Since I usually get up at 4.00 anyway, I rolled out of bed and headed downstairs for a big cup of coffee.

Back in my room to check email, etc. After a while I glanced down at my laptop clock: 3:50.


Apparently, the bedside clock had read 3:25 not 3:55.  I was cheated out of 30 minutes of sleep by the tiny numbers on a clock!

As they say, "First World problems. . ."

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22 December 2012


Just got off the phone with Scuba Mom.

And I was horrified to learn that she has nixed Sweet Potato Casserole from the Powell Christmas Dinner.

Needless to say, I quickly informed her that Baby Jesus would be very disappointed to hear that Sweet Potato Casserole would not be eaten on his birthday.

Thankfully, she relented and agreed that SPC would make its traditional appearance on the Christmas table. 

Whew. Disaster averted.

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Mary: our magnifying glass

3rd Week of Advent (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Knowing what we know about Mary and her mission to give birth to the Christ Child, it seems not at all unusual to us that Elizabeth would heap praise on her cousin, calling her “blessed among women.” After all, Mary is the virginal mother of Word made flesh, the virgin prophesied by Isaiah centuries before who would bear a son and name him Emmanuel. Elizabeth's praise sounds right to us b/c we have the distinct advantage of historical hindsight. Elizabeth didn't. Because we know who and what Mary is, it is all too easy for us to gloss over a vital element in Mary's visit to Elizabeth: the difference in age and social standing btw the two women. Elizabeth is the elderly wife of an important temple priest, a woman of some standing in the community. In stark contrast, Mary is the teenaged wife of a skilled laborer. Keeping this in mind, recall Elizabeth's question, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Who am I to be worthy of such a visit? Mary doesn't answer the question directly. However, the answer she gives demonstrates why the Blessed Mother is worthy of our veneration. 

In what we have come to call The Magnificat, the Blessed Mother performs a prophetic act worthy of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Where as God's prophets of old looked forward into the divine plan for His people, and guided them toward righteousness, the BVM looks back through God's plan and sings a hymn of praise for the fulfillment of His promises. How does she do this? The first verse of her hymn tells us: “My soul magnifies the Lord. . .” Close your eyes and imagine: Mary and Elizabeth are standing, facing one another. You step behind Elizabeth, looking over her shoulder. As Mary begins to sing, you see unfolding behind her, being magnified in her presence, a long line of images. You see the genealogy of her husband, Joseph. From his father, Jacob, back to Azor to Josiah, all the way back to David and Abraham. As she sings of the Mighty One's deeds, you see His hand bless His people. You see Him lead His people out of slavery, through the desert. He feeds them during famine; protects them in war; and gives them the Law through Moses. You see Him send prophets for correction; judges to rule; priests to sacrifice. Through the BVM, the you see the history of our salvation magnified, brought closer, made larger, given flesh and bone in her womb. The BVM is worthy of our veneration b/c—in her humility—she answered the Lord's call, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” 

If you have any doubts about the prophetic character of the The Magnificat, consider this: Mary's hymn uses phrases and images from Genesis, Deuteronomy, the Psalms, both books of Samuel, Micah, Jeremiah, Job, Isaiah, Sirach, and Habakkuk. Her hymn both summarizes and enlarges the prophetic tradition of the coming Messiah. She is for us the gateway, the focal point, the lens through which we see and enter the history of our Father's divine action in His creation. And more specifically, she is the Mother of our salvation, giving birth to the Christ, the only means through which we are made heirs to the kingdom. Because of her humble submission to the Word of her Lord, Mary, a virginal teenaged girl, is raised above and well beyond her natural station to become the one through whom the works of our God are magnified, brought closer to us. By giving her the honor she is due, we grow closer to the Christ; we become—like her—more and more Christ-like. In three days, we will welcome our Lord once again into the world. Will your soul magnify his love and mercy for all the world to see? 

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21 December 2012

An apocalypse to remember!

3rd Week of Advent (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

If you are among those who spend the last few days of Advent scrambling to buy last minute gifts, decorating the house, shopping for the Christmas menu, and fortifying yourself for an onslaught of visiting relatives, you might be disappointed that the Mayan Apocalypse failed to occur today. Did you find yourself peeking out the window hoping for an asteroid or two to fall? Or maybe just a little earthquake to shake things up? Not seriously wishing for a real apocalypse, of course, but perhaps an event significant enough to smack the holiday hurries out of your life? Something big enough to remind everyone that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”? Something to “Put Christ Back into Christmas”? How about “Put Mass Back into Christmas”? That's all the Christmas-related clichés I can remember. But you get the idea. Had the Mayan Apocalypse actually happened, we wouldn't be worrying about what to get crazy Aunt Tilly, or whether to buy that canned jello cranberry sauce or just make our own. We'd have much larger things to worry about. Like not catching on fire, and dodging hunks of falling space junk, and leaping over huge cracks in the earth. Apocalypses have a tendency to wonderfully focus the mind. We have four days until the birth of the Christ Child. Where are your heart and mind focused? 

Before you get worried: this isn't one of those “Stop Being So Busy That You Forget to Enjoy the Holiday” homilies. Nor am I going to wag my finger at you for being focused on the commercialism of Christmas, or nag you about the true nature of gift-giving. What I want to tell you is this: there will be an apocalypse. In four days time, we will witness a true apocalypse, the birth of the Savior of all creation. You see, the English word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek word apocálypsis, which literally means an “uncovering.” In the older English translation of the Bible, the last book of the Bible is called, The Book of the Apocalypse. Nowadays, we call it The Book of Revelation. Apocalypse and revelation mean the same thing: an uncovering, or unveiling of something hidden. It's b/c John's revelation at the end of the Bible involves the destruction of the world as we know it that we've come to think of an apocalypse as The End. The Apocalypse of the Nativity of the Lord is not just an end; it's an end and a beginning. The end of the Old Covenant in its fulfillment in the New Covenant, and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. If you were peeking out the window today, hoping for this sort of apocalypse, then you were celebrating Advent in high Catholic fashion! 

Now that you know that the Apocalypse of the Nativity of the Lord is really all about the unveiling of the Christ Child to the world, and not about a giant Baby Jesus rampaging through the French Quarter, let's ask our question again: where are your heart and mind focused right now? This question arises b/c most of our gospel readings this week have told the stories of Mary, Elizabeth, and Zechariah and their reactions to a visit from the angel, Gabriel. In varying degrees, these three reacted with confusion, fear, anxiety, and doubt. Gabriel reveals to them that they will all play a significant role in bringing the long-awaited Messiah into the world. That's quiet an apocalypse! They had no idea that Gabriel was coming much less that the Messiah was on his way in about nine months. Surprise! Confusion, fear, worry, doubt, all seem perfectly normal. What about us? We've had our whole lives to ponder and wait for the coming of the Lord. We know that we will welcome his birth in just four days. Where's our focus? On what or whom are we lavishing our attention? If it's true that we become what we love most, then it would be in our best interest to bring the full attention of both heart and mind to bear on the birth of the living revelation of the Word made flesh. This will be not only an apocalypse to remember but one we live day in and day out. 

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Anti-realism = Fascism

Peter Smith, writing at The Bell Towers, reports on an annual public meeting in the UK called Battle of Ideas

One paragraph of his report very nicely sums up a distinction I've been trying to flesh out in my homilies for years now:

John Haldane, a softly-spoken Scots academic from St Andrews. . .and fellow-traveler Catholic, put forward the proposition that the fundamental cultural debate is between one collection of ideas, called ‘the anti-realists’, and another, those of ‘the realists’, and that this cultural tension is manifest in political and social policy. Real ideas (by which I think he also meant realistic) contained at their core the notion that the universe is natural, objectively ‘out there’, knowable but distinct, and informing views on sexuality, sex, marriage, death, etc. Anti-realist ideas, by contrast, consider everything as human constructs, plastic and malleable, which can be bended and altered but which inherently are unknowable. Realism and anti-realism contain fundamentally different understandings about what is knowable and what is not, what can be change and what cannot, and mankind’s place in creation.

The distinction btw Realism and Anti-realism is applicable in all branches of philosophy, especially the philosophy of science (essentially a practical application of epistemology), and used extensively in all the humanities.

Applying the distinction to political discourse is extremely useful b/c it gives us a way of addressing and refuting such contemporary political monsters as "identity politics," "victim culture," and other creations of Gramscian cultural Marxism. 

The basic political move of the anti-realists is this: 

1. Use appeals to perspectivism to undermine objectively knowable truth: "From my perspective, X is oppressive/unjust/wrong." The operative concept to push here is the primacy of "context."

2. Once perspectivism has been absorbed into the engines of culture (media, books, academy), move quickly to promote relativism: "You have your perspective on X and I have mine. There's no way to tell which perspective of X is really true."

3. Now that relativism is established, move to nihilism: "Since there's no way to know whose perspective on X is really 'true,' we can conclude that there is no such thing as 'truth.' about X." 

4. Nihilism leads to eliminativism: "If there is no 'truth' about X, then there's no reason to believe that there is any such thing as 'truth' at all."

5. Eliminativism supports "the will to power" in an attack on any claim that something is True: "Your claim that there is such a thing as 'truth" is just an exercise of your _____ power."  The blank is usually filled with an adjective describing the race, class, gender, an/or sexual orientation of the accused.

6. Once the Will to Power is broadly adopted, it's simply a matter of making sure that Your Side has the strongest will to grab the most power. Since there can be no appeal to an objectively knowable standard of distinguishing truth from error (anti-realism), truth is whatever the most politically powerful say it is:  "The greedy 99% is being exploited by the 1%." 

Anti-realism is the philosophical basis for fascism: the State determines reality/truth.

This is all just a highly simplified summary.  The moves between stages are complex and would require whole books to flesh out. However, nota bene, that the steps I've outlined here are on naked display in our contemporary political arena. 

One example: notice how easily our Cultural Betters throw the use "fact" to describe what it is in reality nothing more than an opinion.  Once everything is "just an opinion," then anything at all can be called a "fact." Challenging the "fact" exposes you to the charge that you are abusing your white, middle-class, heterosexual male power.

H/T: Michael Liccione (from Facebook)

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Apocalypse Yawn

Aight. The world didn't end. Unfortunately, those who exploited the Mayan calendar mumbo-jumbo will simply move on to another DIRE CRISIS THAT MUST BE ADDRESSED IMMEDIATELY to squeeze dollars from the gullible.

Since this latest Perennial Money-making Alien/Eco Apocalypse has turned out to be (yet another) dud. . .

Let's get on with ADVENT!

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20 December 2012

An ugly failure made worthy

3rd Week of Advent (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We read again Luke's account of Gabriel's announcement to the virgin girl, Mary, that God's favor has blessed her, and through her, the whole of creation. Christians of every flavor call this seminal event the Annunciation. We could call it the Proclamation; the Revelation; or the Promulgation. We could exhaust a thesaurus: “God's discloses His Son to us” or “God unveils His Son to us” or “God publicizes His Son to us.” All sorts of verbs come to mind for the public act of divine telling. There's one verb, however, that has never crossed my mind. This morning, I read a poem written by Denise Levertov, a late Jewish convert to Catholicism. She titled the poem, On the Mystery of the Incarnation:

It's when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

Have you ever—in your wildest imagination—thought to say, “God entrusts His Son to us”? He entrusts to man—“to this creature vainly sure/it and no other is god-like”—to us He entrusts His infant son. What if Advent were not a joyful season of anticipation and preparation for the arrival of the Christ Child. What if Advent were instead a trial, a five week test to determine whether or not we—vain creatures that we are—were worthy of being entrusted with the care of God's infant Son? Assuming that we want this grave responsibility and the eternal reward of a job well-done; and assuming that we are confident enough in our holiness, can we look back on the last month or so and say that we have earned the Father's trust? As a race, as made-beings, created in love to resemble both the image and likeness of our Creator, can we stand face-to-face with God and say with all humility, “Yes, Lord, we are worthy of your trust”? No, never. And herein lies the devastating truth of the Incarnation. God the Father entrusts His only begotten Son to us, knowing that we are not now, never have been, nor ever will be worthy of His trust or His love. Yet, yet. He loves us and trusts nonetheless. The Word, the Son takes on human flesh through the virginal womb of Mary despite our ancient history of violence, disobedience, and our perverse love affair with death. 

Knowing human history, why would God do something as monumentally stupid as entrust to us the care of His infant Son? Levertov answers for us, “. . .awe/cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart. . .when we face for a moment/the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know/the taint in our own selves. . .” We are entrusted with the Word made flesh so that God's love for us might penetrate our primate skulls as a spike of awe and enter our unclean hearts as a purifying wave. He has no need for our awe; however, we need to be in awe in Him. Why? For the same reason we need to love, praise, thank, and petition Him: if we are to ever become anything more than highly evolved animals prone to violence and death, we must love, and love absolutely, Someone more than we love our base passions. It is “out of compassion for our ugly/failure to evolve,” out of compassion for our failure to love that God surrenders His infant Son to our hatreds, our fears, our anxieties. The Christ Child is our brother and our guest. And we are made worthy, trustworthy by his love for us. 

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19 December 2012

Hoping. . .twice more

NB. The first paragraphs of two other homilies on hope. . .

If God leaves us, who are we then? Let’s say: God is dead. What now? Anything goes: might makes right; money rules; power corrupts; the weak suffer at hands of the strong; the poor will still be blessed but they will be hungry first…wait a second! All of these are true now! And we don’t believe that God is dead. Do we believe that He has left us? Let’s say: God has left us alone. What now? We can wait—for His return; for the return of His Christ; for some sort of End to All This; we can just Wait and let waiting be who we are and what we do until…when? It’s over? We can grieve—that He has left us; that He might have died but we’re not sure; over our now fading memories or the fading memories of those who knew someone who knew someone who knew Him once upon a time. We can weep and mourn. Or we can hope. Or we can weep, mourn, and hope. But hope alone is best. . .

What’s wrong with seeking and finding our strength in flesh? What could be more real, more immediate, more readily available than the helping hand or the generous heart? Seeking and finding our strength in the flesh—in our own hearts and minds and bodies, in our own humanity and communities—this seems more than just the obvious answer; it seems like the only answer to our weaknesses! We turn to one another in service, in generosity, trusting in compassion and endurance. And we often find in our most desperate moment of need, at that instant of near panic in the face of overwhelming hardship—what? Neglect, abuse, cruelty, cold criminal hearts, disdain for others’ needs, blaming those in need, a rationalization for inaction, and weak, weak flesh. Of course, we also find heroic generosity, self-sacrifice, zealous service, and compassion. And here we find the Lord and His hope.

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Hope with endurance

NB.  By request:  a non-Advent homily on hope!  

30th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Sometimes planted seeds die in the ground. Sometimes yeast will not leaven wheat flour for bread. For those of us who are not farmers or bakers we could add: sometimes laptops do not boot up; sometimes buses do not run on time; sometimes you get a “C” in Latin. We experience the failure of potential to be fulfilled everyday. Essays go unwritten. Books and articles for class go unread. Chances to forgive and ask for forgiveness pass us by. So accustomed are we to mishaps, lapses, and near-misses that we have adapted ourselves to work around them, to count them as features of doing business in a world not yet perfected by God's grace. If there's any grand purpose in failure, it is this: who we are made to be in Christ is made all that much clearer, all that much more starkly evident. For those of us who are saved by hope, living in the middle of the contrast between what is and what could be hones the good habits of endurance so that our inevitable trials are not merely endured but enjoyed, celebrated as signs of what we have yet to achieve with Christ. The mustard seed will germinate and grow. The yeast will rise to leaven the bread. 

Paul, writing to the Romans, asks: “. . .who hopes for what one sees?” We do not hope that the bus arrives on time when we see it arriving on time. We do not hope that our laptop will boot up when we see it booting up. Hoping for success when we see success in action is irrational. So, Paul adds, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” Notice here that he qualifies how we wait, “with endurance.” We do not hope, waiting impatiently, or angrily, for what we do not see. While we hope for what we do not see, we wait with strength, resolution; with guts and grit, with moxie and mettle. We dare failure to do its worst, and still we hope. But we must remember, lest we sound arrogant, we must remember: we do not hope in the works of our hands, or the words of our mouths; we hope in the marvelous deeds of the Lord, in His Word alone. It is only in the Kingdom of God that the mustard seed always grows, that the yeast always leavens. And only in His Kingdom that our failure might be counted as success. 

Paul writes, “. . .in hope we were saved.” Saved from what? From whom? We are saved from despairing over our inevitable mistakes; from collapsing under the weight of temptation and sin; from suffering for the sake of suffering; we are saved from the one who would rejoice if we were to abandon eternal life for endless death; from the one who wishes us nothing but disorder, disease, insanity, and pain. The most marvelous deed that our Lord has done for us is to free us from all that binds us to the one who would kill us out of envy and spite. We are saved from his eternal failure. We are planted, watered, and fed so that all we can do is grow and thrive; all we can do is season and leaven this world. Therefore, choose to hope, or hopelessness will be chosen for you. 

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Regardless of the answer: give thanks

3rd Week of Advent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

What do you do/say when God answers your prayers? Notice I didn't ask: what do you do/say when God answers your prayers in the way you want them answered? That would be too easy. If you've spent much time in prayer, you know that God often answers prayers in unexpected and sometimes undesirable ways. We're given the gift of prayer so that we have a way of receiving into our lives all the blessings God has to give us. Like any divine gift, prayer is easily used and abused by a heart and mind twisted in folly. Praying fools, relying on their own sense of what's best for themselves, usually get exactly what they pray for. . .and they usually regret it. Their reaction is always the same: blame God and pitch a fit. However, when the divine gift of prayer is used wisely, that is, relying on God's knowledge of what's best, and receiving all that He has to give, we get what we need. There's only one proper reaction to getting and receiving all that we need from God: copious gratitude and praise. What happens when we fail to respond properly to answered prayers? Look no further than Zechariah and his muted tongue. 

To punish Zechariah for his ingratitude, Gabriel sticks the priest's tongue to the roof of his mouth. The idea here is that if you're not going to use the divine gift of speech to give God thanks and praise for giving you a much-prayed-for son, then you're not going to use it at all. Frankly, Zechariah got off easy. He's a priest. And not just any priest, but the priest selected by lots to offer incense on the altar in the Holy of Holies. And not only that but Gabriel visits him in the Holy of Holies while he's offering the sacrifice of incense! Yet, Zechariah still doubts and questions his Lord's answer to his prayers for a son. So, not only is he ungrateful and slightly petulant upon hearing Gabriel's good news, he's also abusing the divine gift of prayer while praying. Zechariah would have done well to follow Mary's example in responding to Gabriel's news of her son's conception, and submit himself to God's will, saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done according to your word.” Instead, he says—more or less—“Behold, I am an ungrateful brat. How do I know you're telling me the truth?” Speechless. All he can do is gesture at the folks waiting for him outside the temple. What use is a priest who can't offer prayer and sacrifice for his people? 

What does Zechariah's bad example teach us about prayer? It teaches us first and foremost that God answers prayers. Always. It also teaches us that the only proper response to answered prayers—regardless of the answer—is copious gratitude and praise. By questioning Gabriel Zechariah reveals a deeply seated ambivalence about receiving whatever blessing God has to give him. Can he accept a childless life if that's God's will for him? Can he accept a daughter if that's God's will? In the presence of the Lord's messenger, Zechariah confesses a wounding pride, and he uses the divine gift of speech to express his doubt. So, yet another lesson about prayer: it takes more than want and need to beg a blessing from God and receive the blessing He gives; it takes heroic courage, persistent strength, and borrowed wisdom. And more than any one of these or all of them combined, it takes gratitude: the foundation of humility and the only certain cure for pride. Mary is called “blessed among women” not only b/c she said Yes to being the Mother of the Word made flesh but also b/c she did so as a self-confessed and humble servant of the Lord. Courage, strength, wisdom. If we use the gift of speech to pray, then we should use it to give God thanks when He answers our prayers. . .regardless of the answer. 
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18 December 2012

Preaching after a massacre?

Q: Fr., what do pastors say at funerals after massacres like the one in Newtown?

A: Below is the homily I preached on April 17, 2007 at U.D.  Of course, none of the survivors or family members were present. . .and changes everything. . .

Office of the Dead: Vespers for the Living and the Dead of Virginia Tech
Reading: 1 Corinthians 15.50-58
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

We the living here pray this Office of the Dead for the living and the dead of Virginia Tech. May the splendid light of our Risen Lord shine through your loss and bring you all to his peace.

Just barely two weeks beyond our celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord, we are confronted with the heart-rending news that a young man, lost to all reason and swallowed by despair, has killed thirty-three men and women at his university. What seems at first a distant act of criminal insanity quickly becomes a tragedy played against the joyous drama of Easter, and we cannot help but think that each shot fired, each plea for help, each cry for a reason why betrays our trust, turns us opposed to the emptied tomb, and begs us to wade—just a toe! just to the ankles!—begs us to wade angrily into the same despair that dragged this young man to murder. It has happened again. Evil wears a face and dares us to answer in kind! And what do we say? How do we answer this horror?

We know that our Lord is risen from the tomb! Fewer than two weeks ago, in this church, we raised our alleluias in praise of Christ who defeated death in the grave and joined his Father in heaven. We renewed our baptismal vows, welcomed new brothers and sisters into the Body, and heard over and over again in prayer and song that nothing binds us to death; nothing holds us against despair; nothing, no one defeats us—not sin, not the grave, nothing of this world has the authority to catch and hold the hearts of those who blind the darkness with God’s joy and silences the voices of despair with hope—hope sung or shouted or even whispered! Our answer to death then was: alleluia! Amen! He is risen!

But now, right now: do those alleluias sound weak? Do they echo back from Virginia—alone and vain? Paul asks, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Death’s victory is in the hallways and dorm rooms and labs and courtyards of Virginia Tech. Death’s sting sits proudly on the cheeks of mothers and fathers who stare into a future once full of graduations and weddings and grandchildren. Death has stung husbands and wives. Professors, cafeteria and facilities workers, students and cops. Death stung Cho-Seung Hui long before he surrendered his life to the bullet that killed him. Is this Death’s victory? In this mourning hour, watching the misery and grief pour out of Virginia, aren’t we sorely tempted to answer, “Yes. Yes, this time, death has won.”

And what will we do now? Tighten security. Screen students more carefully. Offer better counseling. Put up more cameras. Pass stronger laws, better enforcement. No doubt, we will do all these things. But will we do the one thing, the only thing that will defy this spirit of Dark Loss, that will deny this horror its despairing power; will we do the one thing, the only thing that will matter to eternity? Will we HOPE more and better, will we LOVE more and better, will we TRUST more and better? Will we do the only thing that will deny evil another face? Will we carry those joyous Easter alleluias with us? Put them on our lips? Wear them on our sleeves? Will we bring them closer to our hearts than our own names? Ever ready to shout: He is risen!

We know how to answer despair’s seduction and death’s sting. What do we here in Irving have to say to our brothers and sisters in Virginia? I simply do not know right now. Everything comes out muddled. My chest hurts just imagining the pain and loss, the incredible desecration of it all. The waste. I just don’t know. There is a great silence, however, a stillness that says everything that can be said. Put your heart’s voice there and sit for a while with both loss and abundance.

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17 December 2012

Thank You

A Merry Thank You to Jenny K. for the books from the Wish List!

What a wonderful  Christmas surprise. . .I'm tempted to leave my schoolwork-reading here at home when I visit the squirrels.

Fr. Philip

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Lay claim to your inheritance

3rd Week of Advent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes, turned his investigative eye inward—toward the thinking subject—in order to establish a rock-solid foundation for understanding God and His human creatures. Since then, the idea that individuals are largely defined by their family of origin has been in rapid decline in the West. All sorts of scientific, cultural, socio-economic developments in the modern period have conspired to dilute both the advantages and the disadvantages of strong family ties. As the dominance of the family declines, the individual is let loose to invent and live out his/her existence according to personal fashion, whim, or fantasy. We might roll our eyes at those who live as Jedi Knights or those who've been absorbed into the digital world of role playing games, but we don't persecute them. The idea that one's family has little or no bearing on one's identity is an historical novelty, truly something new. When the Word became flesh in Mary's womb 2,000 years ago, family mattered a great deal. Genealogy was more than a curious hobby for your crazy aunt; it was the way of telling the world who you were and what you were here to accomplish. 

You could spend years teasing out Jesus' genealogy, trying to reconcile apparent inconsistencies btw various versions of his lineage found in scripture. These variations matter a great deal to modern scholars b/c modern scholars are. . .well, modern and the modern scientific mindset recoils at inconsistencies, whether historical or mathematical. What mattered to Matthew's audience—Jewish converts to Christ—was that Jesus had a family connection to Abraham and King David, making him (Jesus) an heir to God's promise to Abraham and David that a savior would be born in their family tree. So, as we approach the birth of Christ, we have with us still, the annual Advent recitation of Jesus' genealogy, starting with Abraham and ending with Joseph. Besides testing your preacher's ability to pronounce Hebrew names, this recitation presents the Christ Child to the world as the legitimate heir to the throne of Israel. In other words, Jesus' genealogy does what every genealogy ought to do: it tells us who Jesus is and what he is sent to accomplish. As the adopted brothers and sisters of Christ, we are also told who we are and what we have been sent to do. 

Jesus’ lineage is our lineage; his history is our history. And what’s more, we are charged, commissioned by Christ himself to live lives of diffusion, lives of active dispersal—going out, growing deeper, spreading further, blooming more, producing more and better fruit, grafting others onto Jesse’s branch, and branching and branching up until he comes again and claims his orchard harvest. If we are to inherit the Father's kingdom as His adopted heirs, then we also inherit the tasks of His only Son. So, this bit of genealogical knowledge from Matthew is not wisdom in itself, but it is wise to know how that each one of us and all of us together are heirs to David’s throne—priests, prophets, and kings, all given the delicate but arduous task of being the Father’s Christ in the world. As we approach the birth of our Savior, we recite his genealogy to remember our own nativity and more than just our own births: we are forced to remember our rebirth in Christ, our coming again into the world as Christs—imperfect, oh yes; but Christs nonetheless. We know who we are as children of the Father and we know what we've been sent to accomplish as His heirs. Therefore, lay claim to your inheritance and do all that the Father wills. 

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16 December 2012

O Come Let Us Adore Him, Bananas!

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Gaudete! A primer on Advent joy

NB. Deacons are preaching this weekend.  So, here's a "Roman homily" from 2009. . .with a few corrections suggested by faithful HancAquam readers.

3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Three words come to mind on Gaudete Sunday: joy, expectation, revelation. Since Advent is a penitential season* we could easily add penance to the list. But like Laetare Sunday during Lent, Gaudete Sunday breaks the fast of the season, giving us a peek at the coming revelation of the incarnation. These “times off” were likely much more welcomed in ages past. Fasting and abstinence were a bit more severe and a Sunday spent partying a week before Christmas and Easter served to relieve the burden of penance, giving faithful souls a boost for the final week of soaking in the mortality of the flesh. Nowadays, we jump from Thanksgiving straight to Christmas without much of anything in between. This is an old complaint among us Advent Nazis, one that falls on ears deafened by hypnotizing muzaked carols and the cha-ching of the cash register. Try as we might, those of us who push Advent as its own season usually fail in our mission, managing only to foist upon Christmas-happy Catholics modest concessions in displaying seasonal symbols and the occasional scheduling of a communal penance service. I'm told again and again, “Stop being Father Grinch, Father!” With great pastoral sensitivity and an ear to the popular mood, I usually just release an exasperated sigh and do my best to preach that without a sense of expectation, waiting is useless to our growth in holiness; without a sense of the hidden, revelation has nothing to reveal; and without a little holy fear, joy is just a mood-stabilizer for the bubble-headed. Gaudete Sunday, properly understood, is more than a peek at the holiday to come; it is a expectant-peek into the unveiling of our joy in Christ.

We re-joice. We en-joy. We can be joy-ful. We can take delight in; be gladden by; we can relish, appreciate, and even savor. We can be satiated and satisfied. Where do we find joy, discover what gladdens us? And why? Why do find joy in this but not that? Why aren't we gladden by all that God has made? Why isn't everyone joyful? St. Thomas gives us an important (if somewhat dry) insight: “[. . .] joy is caused by love, either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved existed and endures in it [. . .] Hence joy is not a virtue distinct from charity, but an act, or effect, of charity”(ST II-II 28.1, 4). Joy is an effect of love. Love causes joy. Where there is no love, there can be no joy. This may sound simple enough, but how often have you heard joy explicitly linked to the virtue of charity, the good habit of loving for the sake of love alone? Don't we usually think of rejoicing, of being joyful, as a temporary emotional spike in an otherwise hum-drum existence? We move along the day in a comfortable flat-line until something happens to us that lifts our spirit, bumps the happy meter up a peg or two. Then the line goes flat again, waiting for the next spike, for the next jump to excite the bored soul.

If love is the food and drink of the Body, then Christian joy can not be a temporary condition, an momentary infection easily defeated by the chores of survival. As beings made in the image and likeness of Love Himself, our very existence—forget our acts; forget our thoughts and attitudes—just-being-here is evidence of love's sustaining power. It is the holy will of a loving God that we Are, just that we live, move, and have our being in Him. From this gift alone we can nourish and harvest a formidable holiness! If God is love and love causes joy; and if we are made in the image and likeness of God who is love; then we are love embodied. We were made to cause joy. But because we too often seek the raw counsel of mere survival—forgetting love and strangling joy;—because we run after things that cannot love us; because we work ourselves bloody toward the low horizon of worldly achievements; because of disobedience and sin, we require a push toward, a tug from Love Himself. One name for this tug, this divine seduction is The Incarnation.

Just as we wait for the Easter resurrection during Lent, we wait for the incarnation during Advent. On Easter morning, the tomb is emptied of our crucified Lord and he ascends to the Father. On Christmas morning, the Son is emptied of his divinity, and he descends to become a servant, a man like us. Before the tomb is emptied, before the Son is emptied, we wait a season with penitential hearts. We do not set aside our joy to mourn; rather, because we are joyful, our failure to always be the cause of joy in others is made all too apparent. The contrast and conflict between who we were made to be and who we have become is sharpened by penitential mourning, by regret and repentance, giving us the chance to see and hear that the perfection of our joy is coming among us—the Incarnation. He emptied himself to become our sin so that our joy might be complete.

What are we waiting for during Advent? A revelation, an unveiling. We expect his arrival in the flesh because we know that he loves us. Our penitential waiting seasons our rejoicing, salts our anticipation, adding to the food and drink of the Body the fullness of both our confessed failures and the assurance of His forgiveness. But if we do not wait; if we fail to seek out what is hidden; if we will not love one for another; then, we cannot expect a joyful revelation. We can expect Santa Claus and Christmas hams and brightly wrapped presents. But we cannot expect to see and hear the birth of our Lord among us. If, after the long season of Lent, we expect the tomb to be empty on Easter morning, then we must expect the Son to be emptied on Christmas day. Without the coming of Christ, Christ never arrives.

Advent is set aside for us to mourn our failures to love. Gaudete Sunday is set aside so that we are reminded of creation's coming Joy. We have one more week to wait. What is it that you are waiting for? More importantly, who are you waiting for and how are you waiting?

* Strictly speaking, Advent is not penitential in the same sense as Lent. But it is meant to be a somewhat somber season in anticipation of the Nativity (2012).

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15 December 2012

Ministering to the traumatized

While in the studium (seminary) I served as a chaplain to the E.R./Trauma Unit at St Louis University Hospital during the summer of 2002.

One afternoon I was called to the E.R. to minister to a family who's 52 y.o. mother had been brought into the hospital for heat stroke and a possible heart attack.

When I got the E.R. but before I saw the family in the waiting room, the charge nurse told me that the woman was D.O.A. 

I went out to the family. . .introduced myself. . .and sat down with them to wait.  More family members arrived while we waited.

After about a 20 mins the E.R. doc came into the waiting room and told the family that their mother had died of a massive heart attack.

They erupted in grief. I just sat there.

When the worst of the grieving had ebbed a bit, I said, "Would you like to see her?"  They said, "Yes."

I went to arrange a visit for the family.  When we entered the room, the family started crying again.  I just stood there. One of the older members of the family said, "Let's pray."  We all held hands and the man prayed.

I walked them back out to the E.R. waiting room and spoke briefly with the oldest daughter about how to arrange for her mother's body to be transported to the funeral home.  

They left.

The next day the director of pastoral care called me into her office and told me that a couple of the family members had called her about my service to the family.  She told me that they raved about my ministry to them and wanted to invite me to the funeral.  She congratulated me on a job well done.

I was stunned, frankly.  In all, I'd spoken maybe 30 words the whole afternoon. And nothing I said was in any way "pastoral" or "spiritual." I didn't even initiate or lead the prayer!  My silence wasn't a stroke of wisdom or even a plan. I didn't know what to say. . .I had nothing to say.

Lesson: when ministering to folks who've been traumatized by the death of a loved one, keep your mouth shut.  Just be there with them.

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14 December 2012

How not to become a fool. . .

St John of the Cross
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The English verb “to vindicate” comes from the Latin vindicare, meaning, “to lay claim to,” or more forthrightly, “to avenge.” A vindex is an avenger, the one who lays claim to justice when an injustice has been done. And “to be vindicated” is to receive justice after having been wronged. This little lesson in entomology etymology helps us to understand what Jesus means when he says, “Wisdom is vindicated by her works.” If wisdom is vindicated by her works, then what injustice has wisdom suffered that needs to be avenged? Jesus is accusing his generation of being fickle, attention-deficient children who can't figure out who they want him and John the Baptist to be. John comes out of the desert neither eating nor drinking and they call him demon possessed. Jesus comes out of Nazareth both eating and drinking and they call him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend to tax collectors and sinners! God's wisdom, which John preaches, is avenged by the miracles Jesus performs. And both John and Jesus—and all who follow him—will be vindicated on the Last Day. Until then, how do we—who claim to follow Christ—live in God's wisdom among the Devil's fools w/o becoming a fool ourselves? 

Thriving among the Devil's fools are a whole circus of distractions, snares, and tar pits. Some are designed to slow us down, others to kill us outright. Most, however, are created to keep us very much alive as newly minted fools. Our medieval brothers and sisters identified seven of these deadly traps. Each a snare waiting for an unwary soul. What they called Pride, the fools now call Self-esteem. Like pride, self-esteem has its proper, holy uses. The trap is snapped, however, when self-esteem becomes bloated with unearned entitlement and petulance. Lust is now Sexual Liberation. Our sexual appetites are a holy gift from God. But the fools have “liberated” sex from its divine purpose, turning God's creating gift into a recreating hobby. Envy wears the mask of Social Injustice. When you have what I want, I'm not envying you; I'm simply demanding social equality and just reparations. Wrath is no longer disordered anger but Righteous Rage. Gluttony is now Consumer Preference. Sloth is “I'm Spiritual But Not Religious.” And Greed is just Good Business Sense. The Devil gives his fools a particular talent: the ability to tweak every Good just enough to hide his temptations but not enough to expose his evil. 

So, how do we—who claim to follow Christ—live in God's wisdom among the Devil's fools w/o becoming a fool ourselves? Isaiah prophesies, “Thus says the Lord: I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go.” And what way should we go? Our medieval kin got this one right too. Humility sniffs out the narcissism in Pride. Chastity gives Lust a cold shower. Kindness opens Envy to true justice. Patience quiets and focuses Wrath toward righteousness. Abstinence tames Gluttony's frenzy. Liberality frees Greed to be generous. And Diligence takes Sloth to the gym. Christ says that wisdom is vindicated by her works. And so are we. Thus, our way along the path to holiness includes these works of mercy: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the stranger; clothing the naked; visiting the sick; ministering to prisoners; and burying the dead. Since the Devil can hide his temptations among our works, we are careful to remember that all of our works of mercy are done for the greater glory of God and for no other reason than the greater glory of God. Without His mercy freely given, our works are chaff, useless and vain.

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Attempted murder of 4 OP friars

We received news last night that a man attempted to blow up the Dominican priory in Toronto, Canada.

Fr. Marcos Ramos, OP is a friar of St Martin de Porres Province.  He's studying for a PhD in theology in Toronto and lives at the targeted priory.

St. Michael, defend us in battle. . .

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School Massacre in CT (Updated)

This makes me want to vomit.

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- A shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Friday left 27 people dead, including 18 children, an official said. . .

Join me in prayer this afternoon for these children, their parents, the teachers, and the young man who brought this horror.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host--
by the Divine Power of God--
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.


UPDATE:  And right on cue. . .the Nannies have started clamoring for anti-gun laws.  Here's a question for them:  is murder illegal?  Yes?  So, did anti-murder laws stop this guy from killing 27 people?  No?  Then why do you think that anti-gun laws will stop criminals from using guns illegally?  The school is a "Gun Free Zone."  Didn't stop him.  He was autistic and mentally ill. Laws preventing the sale of guns to the mentally ill didn't stop him.  In fact, what probably helped him kill 27 people was the fact that the school didn't allow licensed, weapons-trained teachers to carry on campus. 

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