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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