08 June 2012

Resist the deceivers!

9th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Paul gives Timothy a warning and a bit of encouragement, “. . . wicked people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed. . .” Paul warns his disciple against the deceptive machinations of those who would lead the faithful away from the truth. But he also praises Timothy for remaining faithful to all that Paul has taught him. How does Timothy remain so faithful to what he believes despite the efforts of the agents of deception? “Because [Paul writes] you know from whom you learned it.” Note well: “from WHOM you learned it.” Timothy learned the gospel truth from a person, from the personal witness and instruction of Paul himself. Paul notes that Timothy knows the scriptures well, a written witness “which [is] capable of giving you wisdom for salvation. . .” Paul adds, “. . .through faith in Christ Jesus.” Knowledge of scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation. It is “through faith in Christ Jesus” that the fullness of redemption is achieved. We need both the written witness of scripture and the living witness and instruction of the apostles in order to remain faithful against the deceivers and the deceived. 

Over the last couple of months, we've been treated to a media circus over the Vatican's assessment of the LCWR. Just this week, the CDF published a notification on a book written by an American sister that argues against the basic moral theology of the Church. The media circus swirls around what has become a predictable theme: Oppressive Vatican Patriarchs are trying to stomp out any opposition to their absolute power. Of course, this is utter nonsense. But the circus provides us with an interesting insight into the modernist mindset and how faithful Catholics are pressured by deceivers and the deceived to twist the apostolic faith into an ideology agreeable to the spirit of the age. Defenders of the LCWR and the American sister quote scripture and argue that the spirit of the age requires us to adapt the faith to modern times. Failure to do this risks making the faith “irrelevant.” What's left out of this response is the role of Peter, Paul, and the other apostles in handing on to us their personal witness through the teaching office of the Church. Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation. We need the apostolic witness provided by our bishops. 

Early in Paul's second letter to Timothy, Paul reminds his disciple, “. . .to stir into flame the gift of God—that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord. . .” Timothy receives from Paul's hands a spirit of power, love, and self-control. And b/c Timothy possesses this spirit, he is not to be ashamed to witness to the Lord. Timothy did not receive additional knowledge of scripture; he did not receive any special sort of wisdom. He receives the Holy Spirit who seals his experience as one sent out to preach, to teach, and to lead. For all their very human flaws and all their many managerial mistakes, our bishops have received this same Spirit and teach with the authority of Christ. Do not be deceived by those who would have you twist the faith to please the fleeting spirit of the age. Do not be taken in by charlatans who would you the Snake's oil for the price of your soul. Remain faithful through the witness of scripture and obedience to the apostolic tradition, so that you “may be competent [and] equipped for every good work.”

Give me feedback, please!


  1. Tell it, Father! Woo hoo!

    I was just arguing about this kind of thing with my oldest son, who is a self-admitted atheist and an editor with a fervent desire to rid the world of all plagiarism and inaccuracy. I kept trying to say that Sister Margaret Farley was a sister, not a nun, and he said well the NY Times says she's a nun. Yeah, but they aren't an authority. But you said "sister" so yay for you for making the correct distinction! I think it's awfully unlikely that a nun would write a book like Sister Margaret's, anyway.

    Okay, so feedback. I'd like to hear even more fire and brimstone, but maybe I'm unusual that way. Maybe a bit more of an explosive conclusion? What do you think?

    Still—yeah! Go for it! Be that zealot! The Church needs you to defend her!

    1. Methinks someone is trying to get me in trouble. . .hmmmmm. . .


  2. Glad you made it back home safely.

    My first impression was that this homily was rather bland - good message, but too much like spicy food in Provo, Utah. But, I was compelled to read it again and look over today's 1st reading, and my opinion changed. This portion of the Letter to Timothy, at least, reads very much like a father-son discussion so it stands to reason that the homily would be of a similar style. Like Melissa, I too enjoy a bit of fire, but not fire for its own sake - it is more important for me that a homily makes me think - reflect - act. Many times the energetic homily makes that process easier, but for today's reading I don't think it would have been as effective. I appreciated the sprinkling of appropriate quotes and the reminder that it is not Scripture alone that brings salvation, or holds all the answers. We must look also to those inspired by the Spirit - the "teaching office of the Church." We should pray with an open mind and heart WITH our bishops, really hearing what is said - certainly look to Scripture, but don't forget to look to personal witnesses as well. Listen to that still-small voice inside of your own heart - and speak the Truth, even if you are afraid.

    Succinct, calm, personal, challenging and thought-provoking. Thank you - very helpful.


    1. Shelly, many thanks for the thoughtful comments! I appreciate them. Occasionally, I churn out a straightforward teaching homily and this is one of those. I've toned down my rhetorical flourishes since getting back to parish work b/c--though many enjoy that sort of thing--not many really know how to use them for spiritual growth. I think that we are entering a trying period in the Church. As the Revolutionary Baby Boomer priests/religious go kicking and protesting into retirement and their eternal reward, we will have to defend the faith as staunchly and charitably as possible. No easy task!

      Also, thanks for the books! :-)