10 March 2012

Never to be bought, sold, or traded. . .

3rd Sunday of Lent (2012)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

How many here have been to a flea market? I went to one for the first time in the early 80's with my paternal grandmother. We drove to Belzoni, MS to the annual Catfish Festival. We had a carload of her crafts to sell—ceramics, painting, knitting. Every item had a small white price sticker. But I learned that that sticker was just a suggestion, the opening bid for the item. Through the day, I watched my grandmother dicker over the prices. Sometimes she came out on top and sometimes she didn't. When the catfish frying started, I wandered around the stalls to see what I could see. It didn't take me long to find the comic book booths. All those wadded up dollar bills in my pocket—all ten of them—started burning and itching to be spent. I returned to my grandmother's booth with a handful of comics and nothing left in my pocket. That day I learned two rules about bargaining for what you want: 1). always assume that the price is too high; 2). be prepared to walk away. Since then, I've learned another rule of the marketplace: some things are too valuable to negotiate over. Jesus clearly demonstrates that there is no place for the marketplace in the business of faith. Our faith is priceless and God never bargains. 

Jesus is angry, very angry. He's angry enough to take a whip to the moneychangers doing business in the temple courtyard. It might not be obvious why he's so angry, so let's look at that for a moment. The moneychangers have a job to do. They are the first century equivalent of our modern currency exchanges. They take a wide variety of currency and change it—for a fee—into currency acceptable to the temple. The faithful visiting the temple then use their new currency to buy sacrificial animals or donate their tithe to the temple coffers. Seems innocent enough, so why does this practical business upset Jesus? He shouts at the moneychangers, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace.” He's angry b/c these businessmen have turned his Father's house into a marketplace. OK. But why would that make him angry? The moneychangers are helping the faithful fulfill their legal and ritual obligations. . .for a modest profit, of course. Without the moneychangers, most probably wouldn't be able to offer the required sacrifices or make their tithe donations. They are providing an invaluable service. If CCN or the NYT had been around in those days, the headlines would've read: RELIGIOUS TERRORIST OBSTRUCTS FAITHFULS' WORSHIP! Or something equally inflammatory. Is Jesus just being unreasonable here? Is he pushing an extremist agenda? No. Jesus knows that what his Father truly wants, truly values is the sacrifice of a contrite heart. The moneychangers have turned a deeply religious duty into a flea market negotiation.

Taken on its own, there's nothing inherently wrong with the marketplace. We buy what we want and need; sell what we can no longer use; and trade one thing for another based on mutual agreement. Nothing could be more democratic or fair. No one is forced to buy, sell, or trade and prices are set only after both parties are satisfied. But there are some things so valuable that they cannot be priced, cannot be bought, sold, or traded. There are some things that have worth beyond our ability to negotiate them away. One of those things is our faith, the infused habit of trusting in the loving-care of our Father. How much is the freely given gift of faith worth? What would you trade it for? What amount of money could you spend to buy a gift given only by God? Jesus is angry at the moneychangers because they have turned the faithfuls' love for God, their worship, their adoration into a mercantile exchange, a mechanical transaction from which they benefit by charging a fee. Where is the faithfuls' contrite heart? Where is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving? Where is repentance, mercy, and the longing for holiness? Do they believe that the their worship of the Most High is accomplished by jingling a few coins? That their duty to revere the Creator is discharged by slipping a quarter or two into a temple vending machine? Apparently, they do and that's why Jesus grabs a whip, flips over their booths, and drives them out of his Father's house.

Now, what does this raucous gospel episode have to do with us? While Jesus rested in Jerusalem, many came to believe in his name. However, John reports, “Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” Jesus understands the human heart, its strengths, weaknesses, temptations, and failures. He understands that we are often all too ready, willing, and able to overthrow his Father as Lord of our lives and negotiate away the gift of faith. He understands that we are often tempted to allow the demons of fear and worry to set up shop among the better spirits of joy and trust. That we love a good deal and often fail to see beyond the next bargain, beyond the next chance to get something we want. Jesus hesitates to reveal himself to those who have come to believe on his name b/c he knows that it is our nature to take the easiest path, to lift the lightest burden, and to make the most popular choice. He will not give his revelation to a heart prepared to swap it for money, power, celebrity, or approval. He's waiting to reveal himself to those who will sacrifice a heart made contrite in repentance, a heart made pure by honestly discharging its duty to love. The freely given gift of faith cannot be bought, sold, or traded; it cannot be negotiated away or bargained for. It can only be nurtured and lived, or left to wither and die. 

In the next few months and years, the heart of the faithful in the U.S. will be tested by a variety of moneychangers seeking to buy the faith outright or to at least bargain over its price. We'll be tempted with promises of political influence, protection, increased funding, and all sorts of apparently approving cultural goodies. At the same time, from the other side of the bargaining table, we'll be threatened with political exile, cultural disapproval, de-funding, and even dire legal consequences up to and including jail time. These negotiations are already well underway in the U.K., Canada, and several states in our own country. Why? The well-lived life of faith is an irritating obstacle to those who imagine themselves freed from the slavery of sin. That anyone anywhere would cling to the idea that God's truth is knowable; His goodness obtainable; and His beauty enjoyable is. . .well, it's just ridiculous; or worse, it's oppressive, mean-spirited, hateful. That's what our faith is to some: an oppressive, mean-spirited, and hateful indictment of their rightful choices; thus, they must either negotiate the faith away or destroy it outright. But they cannot do that if we follow Jesus' example and keep the moneychangers out of his Father's house, keep our faith out of the flea market, away from the bargaining table and where it belongs: thriving in a contrite heart ready for loving sacrifice. Some things cannot be bought, sold, or traded. One of those things—the single most important thing—is the free given gift of our faith. Nothing this world's moneychangers have to offer is worth the price of abandoning our God.

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09 March 2012

Time for the Liberal/Nominal Catholics to Get Out!!!

From The Gateway Pundit comes this lovely bit of anti-Catholic bigotry:

Of course, many Catholics would be more than happy to see our Lib/Prog/Lefty brothers and sisters hit the door and never look back.  But that bit of wishful-thinking falls right into the hands of those who are seeking to divide the Church against herself.  Let's hope and pray that any "liberal/nominal Catholic" soul who might read this propaganda will see it for what it is and choose instead to reject the discrimination, hatred, and bigotry that this ad represents in favor of tolerance and the right to one's religious liberty.

NB.  Click the Gateway Pundit link above to read the text of the ad. . .if you can stand it.

P.S.  I'm waiting breathlessly for the FFRF to publish a similar ad urging Muslims to leave Islam for all the same reasons that they are urging "liberal Catholics" to leave the Church.  I'm sure the text of that ad is just waiting at the printer's office even as we speak. . .


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Religious Freedom Rally in NOLA


From the New Orleans organizer:

Date: Friday, March 23rd

Time: Noon

Location: New Orleans, in the plaza at the corner of Poydras and Camp Streets, next to the US Courthouse and Hale Boggs Federal Building.

This will be a peaceful rally, held in 61 cities nationwide, solely concentrated on the issue of religious freedom - especially as regards the HHS Mandate, which violates our Constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. We are not supporting/endorsing any political candidate(s) or party and there should be no such signage; there should be no Tea Party signs because the media will try to make this into a TP event, which it is not.

The national organizers will send some signs for us to use. We also need to make our own. They should read as follows, or similar language:

GOV'T DISCRIMINATES AGAINST CATHOLICS [or insert other faith group]
OBAMA DISCRIMINATES AGAINST CATHOLICS [or insert Christians, Jews, etc.]

We will circulate a petition amongst ourselves and solicit signatures from pedestrians/passers-by. After the rally, we will deliver the petition to Sen. Mary Landrieu's office.

The national organizers have suggested that we sing, pray, and have speakers. I don't think speakers will work for us, because I may run into permitting/disturbing the peace problems. I think we will be more effective with signage, collecting signatures on the petitions, and educating passersby that no one is trying to deny access to birth control (as the media has framed it), we are merely seeking a conscious clause - as is our right under the 1st Amendment. We could sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, "We Shall Overcome," etc. and we can chant "Conscience Clause Now!" And because the media/Obama administration is trying to frame this as a women's health issue, we want as many women front and center!

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New Document from the ITC

The International Theological Commission has issued a new document titled, "Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles, and Criteria."  

Here are a few excepts from the Introduction and the first chapter:

2. To some extent, the Church clearly needs a common discourse if it is to communicate the one message of Christ to the world, both theologically and pastorally. It is therefore legitimate to speak of the need for a certain unity of theology. However, unity here needs to be carefully understood, so as not to be confused with uniformity or a single style. The unity of theology, like that of the Church, as professed in the Creed, must be closely correlated with the idea of catholicity, and also with those of holiness and apostolicity.

3. . .The present text accordingly consists of three chapters, setting out the following themes: in the rich plurality of its expressions, protagonists, ideas and contexts, theology is Catholic, and therefore fundamentally one, [1] if it arises from an attentive listening to the Word of God; [2] if it situates itself consciously and faithfully in the communion of the Church; [3] and if it is orientated to the service of God in the world, offering divine truth to the men and women of today in an intelligible form. 

5. Theology is scientific reflection on the divine revelation which the Church accepts by faith as universal saving truth. The sheer fulness and richness of that revelation is too great to be grasped by any one theology, and in fact gives rise to multiple theologies as it is received in diverse ways by human beings. In its diversity, nevertheless, theology is united in its service of the one truth of God. The unity of theology, therefore does not require uniformity, but rather a single focus on God’s Word and an explication of its innumerable riches by theologies able to dialogue and communicate with one another. Likewise, the plurality of theologies should not imply fragmentation or discord, but rather the exploration in myriad ways of God’s one saving truth. 

18. The intellectus fidei takes various forms in the life of the Church and in the community of believers in accordance with the different gifts of the faithful (lectio divina, meditation, preaching, theology as a science, etc.). It becomes theology in the strict sense when the believer undertakes to present the content of the Christian mystery in a rational and scientific way. Theology is therefore scientia Dei in as much as it is a rational participation in the knowledge that God has of himself and of all things. 

19. A criterion of Catholic theology is that, precisely as the science of faith, ‘faith seeking understanding [fides quaerens intellectum],  it has a rational dimension. Theology strives to understand what the Church believes, why it believes, and what can be known sub specie Dei. As scientia Dei, theology aims to understand in a rational and systematic manner the saving truth of God.

Grab a BIG mug of coffee and read the whole thing!

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08 March 2012

I'm on the radio!

If you subscribe to Sirius Radio, tune in to the Catholic Channel on Friday (3/9) at Noon (Central) and listen to me ramble on about this Sunday's readings with Fr. Gabriel Gillen, OP!

Despite my warnings, the Good Friar has invited me on his show, Word of Life, to discuss the Mass readings for the 3rd Sunday of Lent. 

I warned him that I am an associative thinker with a keenly disorganized mind who usually stumbles onto something to preach about after hours of begging the Holy Spirit to throw me a scrap of something, anything to say.

He asked for it.

Oh, and I also promised him that I would cut back on the morning caffeine. . .yeah, right.


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What persuades you to follow Christ?

2nd Week of Lent (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

One says, Jesus tells us a story about the evils of wealth. No, insists another, it's a story about collective sin and the need for social justice. Still others shout out their opinions: it's about the existence of purgatory and hell; no, Jesus is teaching us about not ignoring charity. Well, any of these could be part of the purpose of the story. I want to add a spin of my own, one that gives the story something more than a moral lesson: the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is a story about persuasion; that is, what does it take to convince an incredulous soul that he or she is created for a reason greater than eating, sleeping, reproducing, and dying? Though the story Jesus tells starts with Lazarus, I would start at the end. The Rich Man pleas with Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers to repent so that they might avoid hell. Abraham answers, “If [your brothers] will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” If they will not be persuaded by Moses, the prophets, or someone risen from the dead, what will persuade them? What persuaded you to follow Christ, to live a life beyond your basic biological urges?

Think for a moment about what it means to persuade. The word itself simply means to convince or to influence. We are persuaded by reason, emotion, force, authority, deception, and convention. Most of us would like to think we are persuaded by evidence reasonably evaluated. But few of us would radically alter the way we live our lives simply b/c someone gave us a good argument to do so. Emotion and social convention are likely the two most influential elements in our decision-making. For Christians, especially Catholics, authority plays a huge role in persuading us to accept or reject ideas about the faith. It's a bonus if authoritative persuasion is also rational, emotionally satisfying, and socially conventional, but authority alone is usually enough. And there's an excellent reason for saying that authority alone is usually enough to sway us. Simply put, we believe all that we believe b/c we accept the truthfulness of the biblical witnesses and the experiences of God handed on to us by the apostles, their successors, and our ancestors in the Church. Added to these witnesses is the testimony of our experiences with God within that long tradition. Other elements may contribute to the lasting power of our faith, but it is essentially our stubborn refusal to abandon apostolic authority that keeps us persuaded!

Abraham tells the Rich Man that his brothers will not be persuaded to repent even if someone rose from the dead and told them to repent. How does Abraham know this? Because thus far the brothers have refused to listen to the witness of Moses and the prophets; they have rejected the authority of their ancestors in the faith. If they will not leave their heart and mind open to being touched by God through His living Word, they cannot be persuaded in any meaningful way. Rational arguments do not produce faith. Emotion might produce faith but it just as easily destroys it. Social convention produces a trendy faith, one that changes as soon as the conventions do. A lasting faith is built on the solid foundation of the apostles' witness and the Church's Christ-given authority to define what is and is not necessary for salvation. Christ preached the Father's mercy to sinners. He rose from the dead and left us to persuade with our words and deeds that the Father is indeed merciful. So, the question isn't really, “What persuaded you to follow Christ?” but rather, “Are you—by your words and deeds—persuading others to follow him?”


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Coffee Bowl Browsing

Slippery Slope:  contraception --> sterilization --> abortion --> infanticide --> euthanasia.  Next?  Reducing gov't health care costs through "selective elimination of nonproductive, high risk persons."  

This is for all my Lefty Catholics friends who voted for B.O. b/c W. was an Evil War Monger.

A vid of B.O. from his days at Harvard showing him praising race-baiting hack, Derrick Bell.  I'd rather see his transcripts.

The Church of Big Gov't. . .I've said it before:  it's gonna get Ugly, people.  Gird dem loins.

Speaking of "getting Ugly," it's looking more and more like that woman denied communion at her mother's funeral in MD pulled one over on the Good Father.  Brothers, note well: gentle as doves, wily as serpents. 

Here's a wily priest speaking gently about B.O.'s violation of our religious liberty.

Hacker group crashes Vatican website. . .here's an example where the Church's reliance on the latest tech from the 19th century is a good thing.


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07 March 2012

Satan says, "Non serviam!"

2nd Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Satan and his angels rebel against Heaven. For their punishment, the Lord casts them into Hell. There Satan languishes for nine days in the fiery lake. When he rouses himself, he speaks to his ally, Beelzebub, and the “lost Archangel” boasts of his prison, “Here at least/We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built/Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:/Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,/To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:/Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Though sprung from the 17th century imagination of the English Protestant, John Milton, this crucial moment in Paradise Lost perfectly captures the voice to an ancient yet still breathing rebellion, the all-too-glib swagger of a sinner boasting aloud his own damnation, Non serviam. Where is this furnance-lake? Where does rebellion rule? In the heart and mind that brags about and revels in the demonic verse, “I will not serve.” Satan and his angels are driven from Heaven b/c they refuse to be great as our Lord is great. Jesus says, “. . .whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” When we seek to be masters in this world, we are placed in worldly chains. To be great in the Lord, we must be servants in the world. 

In his self-serving speech to Beelzebub, Satan tells an astonishing lie, “Here [in Hell] at least/We shall be free. . .” Only the corrupted mind of a demon could look at the prison of Hell and call himself free. No state of being outranks Hell in the absence of true freedom. Hell is the “state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed. . .”(CCC 1033). When we definitively, finally exclude ourselves from communion with God, we are in Hell. Since God—Who is Love, Truth, Beauty, and Freedom—is our supernatural end, our ultimate goal in this life and the life to come, the choices we make are freest when they bring us closer to our goal. If we have already given up on our goal of being with God forever, then every decision we make thereafter is chained to some other goal, some other end. Lucifer abandons his supernatural goal—one that he has already achieved as an angel—and chains himself to pride, jealousy, and power. To soothe his deeply wounded sense of self-esteem, He boasts that he would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. The lie that he lives is this: even though he imagines himself to be the King of Hell, he is actually a slave to every sort of corruption. He serves while believing himself to be the master. 

All this talk about Lucifer's fall from heaven and his imaginary rise as Satan, King of Hell, serves to make a rather simple point: if we will to be free, we will serve. We will serve God, His creatures, His Church, and we will do so with the same love with which He loves us. This means setting aside willful pride, that entitled sense of self-sufficiency and independence; surrendering jealousy, the dangerous coveting of another's blessings and gifts; and the idolatrous worship of control, popularity, wealth, reputation, and the need to always be right. Loving and humble service given for the greater glory of God brings peace to a raucous mind and troubled heart. And the best way to set yourself on the road to destruction is to declare yourself independent from our only source of true freedom: service in love, service given for no other reason than because God loves you. Satan says it best, “I will not serve. For me, it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Good luck with that.

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06 March 2012


My thanks to the HA reader who sent me the Denzinger book!

There was no invoice in the package, so I can't pray for you by name.  


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Monday Fat Report (Octave): UPDATED

Come Back Week, baby!  :-)

-3 to 323lbs.  I was afraid that I had plateaued.  

Keep those prayers going. . .they are probably the only thing keeping me from ravaging the local Chinese buffet like a diet-crazed Godzilla.

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

P.S.  I've been informed by some Know-It-All with a calculator that 327-3=324 not 323, meaning I've allegedly lost four lbs instead of three.   This is obviously an accounting trick borrowed from B.O.'s economic advisory council.  I'll stick with the facts, thank you very much.


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04 March 2012

Love + Truth = Holiness

NB.  After the 5.30pm Mass yesterday, a parishioner said to me, "Father, you sounded like Savonarola up there!"  Me, "Oh, that didn't end well for him, did it?"  Him, "No.  At least they hung him before setting him on fire."  Me, "Somehow, that's not comforting."  :-)

2nd Sunday of Lent 2012
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Amen, I say to you, you have heard it said—by pastors, preachers, confessors, teachers, the Pope, every Hallmark card you have ever received, and your mama—you have heard it said that God loves you. And indeed He does. He can do nothing else for He is Love. Our heavenly Father is not a being that loves us most of the time, or on occasion, or only when we deserve it. Love is Who He is and What He does—eternally, without conditions, and for a single all-encompassing purpose: to change those who will receive His love into a holy people. The question—does God love me?—should never cross your mind. Why? Let's exercise our logic muscles: God is Love. You live and move and have you being in God. Only existing creatures are capable of asking questions. “Does God love me?” is a question, therefore you exist. Therefore, God loves you. To put that a bit more succinctly: that you (an existing creature) can ask the question at all means that God loves you. So, let's retire the question of whether or not God loves us. If He didn't, He would not exist and neither would any of us. There is a question about God and love that must be asked, and asked daily: do I love God? If so, what purpose does my love for God serve? On Mt. Tabor—in the presence of Peter, James, and John—the transfigured Christ gives us the answer. We love God for the same reason He loves us: so that we may be made holy.

Since we've retired the question of whether or not God loves us (He does and can do nothing less), and we already know why He loves us (so that we may be made holy), and we've answered the question about why we love God in turn (so that we may help God make us holy), let's ask a more practical question: how do we help God make us holy? That is, what do we do/think/say/feel on a day to day basis that assists God's love for us so that we are actually growing in holiness? Loving God, yourself, your family and friends, your neighbors, and even loving your enemies is easy in the abstract. It's easy to sit back and radiate an aura of loving care; it's easy to say, “I love my neighbors and all my enemies;” it's easy to think sweet thoughts about the poor, the persecuted, and the sick. It is far more difficult to get out there and perform loving acts; to perform forgiveness; to show mercy; to treat everyone you meet—at WalMart, at the bank, at the office, in traffic—to treat everyone you meet as another soul deeply in love with God and eternally loved by God. This is why the Church has always bound faith and works together: our loving works demonstrate our trust in God and our trust in God is made real in our loving works. When we fail to love, we confess these failures as sins in thought, word, and deed. So, how do we help God make us holy? Well, first, we understand that loving God and those He loves is not simply an abstract, intellectual exercise; next, we understand that love is a behavior—like driving or walking or getting dressed. To love is to see, hear, think about, and treat yourself and everyone else the way God Himself treats us all. With kindness, compassion, dignity, patience, and forgiveness. Do this and you grow in holiness. You become more like Christ. You are transfigured.

Becoming more like Christ is we have vowed to do. But we need to hear this: loving God, self, and everyone else—becoming more like Christ—is dangerous. Dangerous how? Besides Jesus' promises of persecution, trial, and death for those who follow him, we can point to the forty days he spent in the desert being tempted by Satan. We too are tempted by Satan with the lures of popularity, prestige, worldly power, and personal satisfaction. The Devil always takes God's gifts and tweaks them ever-so-slightly and then presents them to us infected with his poison. God's love and His command to us to love is no different. With God's love and His command to love comes His truth and His command to obey the truth. Love and truth cannot be separated. When we love intensely, we dwell intensely in the truth. Note well that the Devil never lied when he tempted Christ in the desert. Everything he said to Jesus was true; however, he was motivated by a desire for worship and power not love. We find ourselves similarly tempted. The Devil plays on our desire to love by pointing out all the ways we appear to fail at love. He accuses the Church of not loving women b/c we truthfully name artificial contraception, abortion, and sterilization evil. He accuses us of hatred b/c we truthfully call sex outside of a sacramental marriage evil. He accuses us of not loving orphans b/c we cannot place them in homes with two fathers or two mothers. He accuses us of not loving non-Christians b/c we truthfully teach that Christ is the only name under heaven through which all are saved. What Satan is tempting us to do, want us to do, is sever truth from love and love without truth. This we cannot do b/c our Christ is the truth, the way, and the life. And we follow him so that we will be transfigured, made holy in love and truth.

Satan and the world he rules teaches that “Love” is to be practiced without Truth. Love w/o truth is nothing more than lukewarm tolerance or indifferent permissiveness, an emotion that feels good to emote but ultimately leaves those who live it living a lie. Godly love is always true. Never a lie. True love is always gives the glory to God. Never to man. Love always carries us to goodness; never to evil. Love always binds us in obedience; it never frees us to be disobedient. Godly love always heals, always cleans, sometimes hurts, sometimes cuts away. Love never winks at sin, shrugs at injustice, or ignores the poor. Love always looks to Christ, his church, and his Mother. Love never uses the bottom-line, the convenient, the practical, or the efficient to destroy God’s creatures, especially His unborn children. Love always encourages spiritual growth from faithful experience. Love never gives hope to novelty for novelty’s sake nor does love trust innovation for the sake of excitement. Love can be a terrible whirlwind, a stone-shattering blow, a heart-ripping loss. But love always builds up in perfection, grows in wisdom and kindness; love attracts questions about eternal things, discourages attachment to impermanent things; and, when necessary, love will kick your butt, take your name, and call your mama! The love that Satan and the world he rules wants to settle for is a passion for indifference, permissiveness, choice w/o consequence, and, ultimately, death.

Will you be made holy? Let's ask that differently: do you will to be made holy? If you will to become a well-oiled, surgical tool for God’s Word, you will love as He loves you. You will speak the truth and only the truth; you will spread goodness and only goodness; you will honor beauty and only beauty; you will correct error, confront sin, expose lies, forgive all offenses; and you will build up his Body with works of mercy and open the doors of your faith to the stranger. And you will remember—if you will to be made holy—that you are not alone. God is with us, who can stand against Him?

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