31 December 2013

Mother of Our Freedom!

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Redneck Squirrels, MS

Listen Here (8.00am Mass)

We call her "Advocate of Eve," "Seat of Wisdom," "Cause of Our Joy," "Help of Christians," and "Mother of Sorrows." We greet her in prayer, “Hail, Mary! Full of grace!” And we call upon her intercession using a variety of names: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Knock, Queen of the Americas, and Our Lady of Prompt Succor. But all these titles and names are meaningless unless we understand the one title that makes all the others possible: Theotokos, God-bearer, the one who gives birth to God. Mary is who and what she is for us b/c she is first and foremost the Holy Mother of God. This title was settled upon in 431 A.D. by the Church Fathers at the Council of Ephesus. Fighting back a heresy that wanted us to believe that the Christ was actually two different persons—one human and one divine—the Fathers declared that Christ is just one divine person with two natures (human and divine). Mary gave birth to the divine person of Jesus Christ, making her the mother of God Incarnate. And since we never celebrate a Marian feast w/o remembering the One to Whom Mary always points us, we also celebrate her son, Jesus, the Messiah. Given all this, I'd like to propose another title for Mary: Mother of Our Freedom! Why this title? Paul writes to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. . .so that we might receive adoption as sons. . .So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.” 

We are no longer slaves but sons, heirs; and made so by God through the faithful cooperation of Mary. The Mother of Our Freedom cooperated (operated with) the Holy Spirit and received into her womb the seed of the Word, which grew into the divine person of Jesus. His birth into human history and his death into eternal life makes our salvation possible. He cuts a path through the thorny tangle of sin and death and draws us behind him to be taken up, made holy, and seated at our inherited place at the banquet table of God. Our release from the slavery of sin, our escape from the inevitability of death is accomplished by Christ through the cooperation of Mary. She is the Mother of Our Freedom b/c she gave birth to the only means of our freedom. From slaves to heirs, we move ever closer to the perfection of Christ.

Our perfection in Christ is both our work and the work of God. Just like our Blessed Mother cooperated with the work of the Holy Spirit to conceive and give birth to Jesus, we too are vowed to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit to conceive and give birth to the Word, making his flesh and blood our flesh and blood; surrendering our hearts and minds, and our hands and voices to the holy work of preaching and teaching the Good News to the world. The longer and harder we work at accomplishing this task, the higher we climb in holiness and the deeper we delve into divine wisdom. Like the shepherds who find the Holy Family in the manger and “made known the message that had been told them about [the Christ],” we too are vowed to finding Christ, following him, and making his message known. After seeing the Christ-child, the shepherds go home, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” And we too will return home, our heavenly home, glorifying and praising God, if we do what we have promised as followers of Christ to do. Mary held on the message of the shepherds, reflecting on it in her heart, remembering Simeon's warning in the temple that her heart would be pierced by the sufferings of her son. While the shepherds adored and the people were amazed, Mary quietly grieved, knowing the destiny of the one sent to redeem us all from the slavery of sin.

Mary's grief must have been nearly unbearable. Having assented to the conception of the Word and given him birth, she is left with the sure knowledge that her son is the long-awaited Messiah, the One who would suffer and die for the sins of men. To gain our freedom, the Mother of Our Freedom had not only to bear the Christ into this world, she had to witness his suffering and death for our sakes. And not only was she a witness to his passion, she suffered along with him as any mother would. Her heart, pierced by the sword of grief, bled out even as Jesus bled out on the cross. As painful as his death and her grief no doubt were, as a result, we rose as a race to be the adopted children of the Father, heirs to His kingdom. Granted the inheritance of the ages, in possession of God's promise of eternal life, and the possibility of perfection through His Christ, what do we do in order to give thanks? How do mere creatures show appreciation to the One who created and re-created them? There is nothing we can do or say that would equal this gift, that would express the enormity of this sacrifice for us. We are left to do only that which we have already vowed to do: bring the message of God's love and mercy to the world in all we do, say, think, and feel. Despite opposition, persecution, ridicule, and violence, we deliver the message that Christ is Lord! When we do as Christ did, and speak as he spoke, we grow closer to our perfection in him.

Some 1,600 years ago, a council of Church Fathers hashed out a theological statement that confirmed what most Christians at the time already believed: that Mary is the Holy Mother of God Incarnate. As the mother of God, she bore into the world the Son who grew up to teach and preach the saving word of his Father's mercy to sinners. Not only did he teach and preach his Father's mercy, he embodied that mercy; he gave that mercy flesh and bone and walked among us as a sign of contradiction, a rock upon which men's hearts and minds would be broken to reveal the truth inside. When confronted with the raw truth that your sins are forgiven and that you are no longer a slave to sin, the truth that dwells secretly within breaks out and flourishes in the light of Christ. The shepherds wandered the desert on the word of an angel until they found Christ. The truth in their hearts dropped them to their knees in adoration. Those near the manger, the ones who heard the shepherds' message, had their hardened hearts softened and exposed. They were left amazed by the Good News. Mary, Mother of Sorrows, had her heart broken on the knowledge that her son would suffer and die. The truth in her heart led her to a life of humble service to the Lord. Within the Body of Christ, his Church, there is a truth that will renew us, a truth that will bring us to remember our vows, and urge us to rededicate ourselves to the hard work that Mary started when she said Yes to God. That truth is this: each of us and all of us together are the flesh and blood of God's Word, not just people who believe or people who do good works, but the People of God who walk out into the world to be—however imperfect—Christs for one another. Mary, Mother of Our Freedom, gave birth to the only means of our freedom, Christ Jesus the Lord. Will you, will we say Yes to God, conceive His Word, and keep in the world the mercy and love that Jesus lived and died to bring to us? Do this holy work and the Lord will bless you and keep you! The Lord will let his face shine upon you. . .The Lord will look upon you kindly and give you peace!

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29 December 2013

Does narrative rescue God from metaphysics?

There are contemporary theologians and philosophers of religion who challenge the dominance of what they call "onto-theological thinking," that is, following Nietzsche and Heidegger, these folks argue that it was a big mistake for the Church's earliest theologians to translate the Biblical witness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into the Greek language of substance metaphysics:  "Yahweh" becomes "Being Itself."

The identification of Abraham's God with Plato's One seems natural enough when you consider Exodus 3.14, "I AM that I AM" (or any of the dozens of renditions).  With a name like "I AM," you are inviting metaphysical speculation on the nature of existence and your place in the scheme of things.  If God is not a being like all the others in the world, and yet He somehow manages to exist . . .how exactly are we supposed to understand what it means to exist but not as an existing thing?  Aquinas' answer:  God is not a being; He is Being.  He doesn't exists; He is existence.

Now, we could interpret the last two sentences above in purely metaphysical terms.  "God" and "Being" are two names we give to the persistence of existing.  No bible necessary here.  We could also interpret those same two sentences in a purely Biblical sense, using Exo 3.14 as our text and show that "I AM" is a religious and not a philosophical concept.  But as Gilson argues, this sort of splitting your worldview up into separate parts in order to keep them compartmentalized is dishonest. So, an honest believer's religious, philosophical, theological, etc. worldviews need to be consistent with one another.

Aquinas, wanting to be consistent, uses the first part of his Summa to address the question of who and what God is.  To keep this post within a reasonable word count, I will simply quote Brian Davies on Aquinas' notion of God:  "God. . .is the beginning and end of all thing, the Creator of the world which depends on him for its existence. . .Aquinas also holds that God is alive, perfect, good, eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. . ."(129).*  Taking up the characteristics usually assigned to The One of Platonic metaphysics, Aquinas attributes them to God and then argues that though we can have some limited knowledge of God, we cannot know God perfectly this side of heaven.**

Skipping over a couple of centuries of development in philosophical theology, we arrive at what is usually called "the Problem of Evil."  In the past this argument has been more or less used by religious skeptics and atheists to poke holes in theism.  For some, it's THE argument against theism and moves them to quit religion entirely.  The classical form of the argument goes something like this:

1. God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore, one or more of the "omni" attributions in #1 must be false.

#3 here is usually taken to mean that God cannot be all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere present if evil exists.  He could be a combination of any of the two but not all three.

There are hundreds of different reasonable responses to the Problem of Evil. I'm keen on the Free Will Defense myself:  evil is allowed by God so that human freedom may be maximized; or since God wills that human freedom be maximized, He allows evil, which inevitably results from the abuse of human freedom.  This is basically Aquinas' response, so we know it's the correct one.

This is an example of philosophy helping theology untangle a problem.  However, couldn't we say that philosophy caused this problem in the first place?  There would be no Problem of Evil if we had resisted the temptation to translate Yahweh into Being Itself.  Yahweh is not presented in scripture as possessing the three-omni's of Plato's One.  When Yahweh is addressed as "All-powerful Lord," He is being praised in emotive language and not assigned the philosophical label "omnipotent."  Etc. for the other two-omni's. 

Our Nietzschean and Heideggerian theologians/philosophers would have us abandon the God of Plato's metaphysics and simply stick with the Biblical God of Abraham, etc.  This notion of "forgetting metaphysics" has a number of different names in the academy, but the most common is "narrative theology."  Generally associated with the Yale Divinity School, narrative theologians are impatient with complex metaphysical problems and all the messy philosophical waste that seems to be secreted from the history of onto-theological discourse.  Their goal is to rescue biblical revelation from the clutches of onto-theological-philosophical obfuscation and return it to the center of the Church's communal life.  This strikes me as a important consideration for the development of a Catholic theology of preaching. 

However, in theology more generally, how we go about separating out philosophy from narrative in the biblical witness is beyond me.  We could, I suppose, focus only on metaphysical language (being, cause, essence, etc) and remove it from our theologizing about revelation.  But then that leaves us unable to ask epistemological questions (i.e., how do we know?).  We could just say that philosophy is really about wisdom and telling stories is the best way to disseminate and promote wisdom.  I wouldn't disagree entirely with this, but we are still left with deciding what counts as wisdom and what doesn't.  We also have the problem of interpreting and applying a story's wisdom to concrete situations.  That's called hermeneutics.  And it comes with a whole mule-load of philosophical considerations. . .and so on.

So, our theological enterprise is not doable without philosophy.  We might disagree about which philosophical approach to take, but philosophy as a way of thinking and talking about problems in human discourse is a non-negotiable. It's here to stay.  To paraphrase an old prof of mine:  "Philosophy always seems to be its own undertaker!"

*"Aquinas on What God is Not," in Aquinas's Summa Theologiae:  Critical Essays, ed. Brian Davies, Rowan and Littlefield, 2006, 129-144.

**It is this "divine hiddenness" that causes some sceptical philosophers and theologians to question the possibility of knowing anything at all about God.  Some go so far as to argue that the obscurity of God--intended or not--is sufficient reason to withhold belief in His existence.  The argument goes, if God loves me and wants me to be saved; and if believing in God is all-important to my eternal salvation; then revealing Himself to me would be an act of salvific love, while remaining hidden is an act of cruelty.  I'm skipping over several crucial steps in the argument, of course, but you get the idea: divine hiddenness is an epistemological nightmare.


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28 December 2013

Might Makes "Right," or Fascism Kills

The Feast of the Holy Innocents always prompts me to wonder: how do we -- allegedly among the most civilized nations on Earth -- allow the slaughter of our children by the thousands everyday? Part of the answer can be found in exploring how we've allowed Cultural Marxism to infect our nation's politics, and how we've adopted Soft Fascism as a way of life.
From a 2011 post:
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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25 December 2013

Squirrels, or I Told Ya. . .

Vicious little rodents are just waiting for me to go outside. . .

Attack of the Squirrels from Gregory Bianchi on Vimeo.


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24 December 2013

A primer on the Incarnation

My annual post on the nature of the Incarnation:
The Nativity of Christ, or Christmas ("Christ Mass"), celebrates one of the most important events of the Church:  the incarnation of the Son of God.  Like the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, etc., the Incarnation is one of those rock-bottom Christian beliefs that most Christians assent to but probably don't really understand.  Though Catholics all over the world affirm their belief in the incarnation every Sunday by reciting the Creed, how many could explain this tenet of the faith in the simplest terms?

Let's start with a story. . .

The archangel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces to her that God has chosen her to be the mother of the Christ Child, His Son.  Mary says, "Your will be done" and the Holy Spirit descends on Mary, giving her the child.  Nine months later the Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Simple enough story, right?  If we left the incarnation there, we would still have the basic truth of Christ's arrival into the world.  Things get a little more complicated when we start to think about what it means for the Son of God (who is God) to take on human flesh and live among us.  How does the God of the Old and New Testament become incarnated yet remain sovereign God?  We are immediately confronted by what theologians call "the Christological question":  how is the man Jesus also God?

Before this question was settled by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., a number of answers were offered and rejected:

Jesus is really a man who possesses God-like qualities.
Jesus is really God in the appearance of a man.
Jesus is half-God and half-man.
Jesus' soul is divine but his body is human.
Jesus' body is human but his mind is divine.

Complicating matters even more was the lack of an adequate theological vocabulary with which to think about and write about the incarnation.  Early Christian theologians turned to the available philosophical vocabularies for help.  The most prominent philosophical system in the first few centuries of the Church was a developed form of Platonism.  Borrowing heavily from the Platonists, the Church Fathers crafted a creedal statement that said:  The Father and the Son are the same in substance ("consubstantial"), meaning that they are the same God.:  "God from God, light from light, true God from true God." The Son was not created in time like man but rather begotten from all eternity.  He "became incarnate" through the Virgin Mary--fully human in all but sin. 

This creedal statement defined the orthodox position of the Catholic Church.  However, interpretations of the creed abounded and additional councils had to sort through them all in order to discover the orthodox expression of the true faith.  In the end, the Nicene Creed was taken to mean that Jesus was fully human and fully divine:  one divine person (one body/soul) with two natures (human and divine).  "Person," "essence," "being," "nature" are all terms borrowed from Greek philosophy.  So, as the West discovered new ways of thinking philosophically, these terms took on different meanings and our interpretations of theological expressions of the truth developed as well.  The basic truth of the incarnation does not change; however, how we understand that truth does change.

For example,  the Greek word we translate as "person" is prosopon, or mask.  This term was used in the Greek theater to denote the different characters played by one actor.  A single actor would hold a mask in each hand and shift the masks in front of his face to say his lines, indicating that the lines were being said by different characters.  Applying this term to God, the Blessed Trinity, we arrive at a single actor (God) using three masks (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).  Same actor, different characters.  Ultimately, this metaphor is woefully inadequate for expressing the deepest truth of the Trinity.  Yet, we still say that the Trinity is three divine persons, one God.  "Person" as a philosophical term used to describe a theological truth had to be developed.

Eventually, we came to understand several vital distinctions:  The Church uses the term "substance" (rendered also at times by "essence" or "nature") to designate the divine being in its unity, the term "person" or "hypostasis" to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and the term "relation" to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others (CCC 252).

 So, God is one substance; three divine persons; distinguished  from one another not by their natures or persons but by their relations one to another.  The incarnation then is the second divine Person of the one God becoming a divine person with two substances or natures.

You are one person with one nature:  "I am human."
God is three divine persons with one nature: "I am divine."
Christ is one divine person with two natures:  "I am human and divine."

Aquinas, quoting Irenaeus, writes, "God became man so that man might become God."  The incarnation of the Son makes it possible for us to become God (theosis).  This is how Catholics understand salvation.

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The ultimate triumph of Light over darkness

NB. A Christmas homily from 2011. . .
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

In 431 A.D., our Church Fathers gathered in Ephesus for a council and decreed that the Blessed Virgin Mary would be honored with the title, Theotókos, God-bearer or the one who gives birth to God. For a majority of Christians at the time, this decree was yawn-inducing b/c Mary had been known as Theotókos for a couple of centuries. However, one bishop, Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, objected to the title because he thought it was irrational to believe that a creature of God—a human woman—could be the mother of the God who had created her. He preferred the title, Christotokos or bearer of the Christ. This title makes it clear that Mary is the mother of Christ, the man, but not the mother of Christ, who is God. Nestorius was credibly accused of dividing Christ into two persons—a human person and a divine person—and thus destroying our means of salvation. After all, we are saved by Christ precisely because he is one person possessing both a human nature and a divine nature. The council fathers declared Nestorius' teachings heretical and supported the teachings of his opponent, the bishop of Alexandria, St. Cyril. In support of his position at the council, Cyril wrote, “I am amazed that there are some who doubt whether or not the Virgin should be called Theotokos. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how is the Virgin who gave him birth, not the one who gives birth to God?” 

Now, you are probably thinking to yourself: Father, we're all stuffed with ham, sweet potatoes, yeast rolls, and pie. . .and we have a big mess to clean up at home. . .what have we ever done to you to deserve a lecture on fourth-century Christological controversies? Well, you've probably done something in the last year to deserve it. . .but that's not really the point. The point is this: the event we celebrate today is not Jesus' birthday. . .this is not a Birthday Party. The event we celebrate is (quoting John's gospel): “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. . .” The Word became flesh. Who is the Word? Again, quoting John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Don't miss that last bit: “and the Word was God.” God took on skin and bone and blood, and He dwelt among us as one us. Today, we celebrate the event of our Creator stepping into His creation to become a creature. This is most emphatically NOT a birthday party. . .this is an Incarnation Party! The Word of God, the Christ, who is God, becomes Man so that we might become Christs. 

And that's the answer to my next question: why did the Word of God, the Christ, who is God become Man? So that we might become Christs. John writes, “. . .to those who accept [Christ] he gave power to become children of God.” To be a child of God is to be a co-heir to God's Kingdom, to be a brother or sister to the Son of God. To be one of the Father's children is to be one who sees “[Christ's] glory. . .full of grace and truth.” And to see Christ's glory, full of grace and truth is to see clearly the righteous path back to the Father. When we follow that path—with humility, in obedience; loving, forgiving, showing mercy all along the way—we grow closer to Christ and become more and more like Christ. But the only reason we can even begin to walk this path is because the Word of God, the Christ, became human like one of us; suffered and died like one of us; and rose from the tomb in order to show us how it's done. He had to go first, so that we might follow.

Today, Christ is born to the Virgin Mary. She is Theotókos, God-bearer, Mother of God Incarnate. And if you step onto the narrow way, the path of holiness, you too can bear Christ into the world; and not only bear him into the world, but become him for others in the world. Your words, deeds, thoughts can all reveal God's glory to the world just as Christ himself revealed God to us. When you leave this evening. . .when you go back out there. . .back to your Christmas mess. . .or someone else's mess. . .wherever you go. . .remember that this holy day celebrates the ultimate triumph of Light over darkness. . .and so, as you go, be “the true light, which enlightens everyone.” Be Christ!

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A 4 y.o. me at Christmas

Here's a Christmas pic of part of my family from 1968.  

I'm the only one smiling.

This was taken at my grandparents' house in Lynn, MS.  My maternal grandfather, Clyde Mitchell, is in the center.  He died in March of 2011 at 98 y.o.!

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A Catholic literature?


The Squirrels have been less than vigilant in their war against my reading regime. They must've heard that I am focusing on spiritual/pleasure reading during this break. When I'm reading in preparation to teach a course, they are merciless in attacking my peace.

A HancAquam post wouldn't be complete w/o a link to some books. . .so, here's a piece from Cosmos The In Lost (yes, that's how he arranges it):

There's a debate raging amongst Catholic literary critics about whether or not Catholic literature is dead and/or dying. Prof. Rosman denies that "literature of faith" is either dead or dying and defends the existence of a robust Catholic literary scene. The title of the post linked above refers to Greg Wolfe, editor of Image, a journal that trades in the literature of faith. 

Check it out!

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18 December 2013

What happens when we surrender. . .?

NB. I'll be traveling toward The Squirrels tomorrow morning. So, here's a Roman homily from Year B that I never got to preach. . .

4th Sunday of Advent: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8-14, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma
Unless Samuel Beckett is right, and we wait for Nothing when we wait on Godot, then when we wait, we wait in need. There is something or someone we do not know, something or someone we do not have; yet feel, yet know we must have; so, we wait. When we wait, we desire. Waiting is what the body does with unfilled desire. We sit here or walk there, or stand, leaning against someone stronger or more patient, perched right on the edge of bounding up in mock surprise to shout, “Finally!” Exasperated, or relieved in anger. You are here. Finally! I have you. But it is too soon yet to claim victory, to claim our prize for patient waiting. Unlike Estragon and his philosophical friend, Vladmir, both waiting for Godot, our advent clock has many more ticks and tocks before the final gift is dropped, before our longest longing is eased, and our waiting in hope is rewarded with the birth of the Word into the world. What we have to wait with today is Mary’s surrender, the end of her anticipation as she answers the archangel’s call to be the ark of the Lord, His tent in flesh: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” If and when, in our waiting and in our desiring, if and when we surrender, what happens?

This week of our long wait begins a headlong fall into the celebration of the birth of the Word into the world. In just one week, we sit up and notice one more time that hope is born for us; faith is pushed out from eternity and into our lives; love is gifted with a body, a mind, a soul for our sakes. In just one week, the one John the desert prophet promised arrives and begins his thirty-three year presence to those who have waited for centuries. But today, this last Sunday of our waiting, we party with the angels as they and we hear a young Jewish woman, confronted with a choice by the archangel Gabriel, we all hear her choose life—his, hers, ours, and the world’s. We all hear her choose to be the mother of God, the God- Bearer. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Look! I serve the Lord. Let His will be for me as you say it is.

What would happen to your life if, every morning from now on, you awake up and say aloud, “I serve the Lord. Let His will be mine.” First, understand that this is a prayer of priestly sacrifice. All the elements of sacrifice are present in that one prayer: you are a priest offering yourself as victim to a loving God on the altar of your day. Second, once sacrificed with this prayer, this act of human will, you belong body and soul to He Who made you. He made you and his love holds you in being as His creation. Your prayer of sacrifice is an act of gratitude, of giving thanks. Third, if you will do His will you will expend your day in His service as His handmaid, his servant. Every thought you have, every act you do, every passion you feel has already been given over to the fulfillment of His will. Fourth, His will for all His servants is to love Him, love ourselves, and love our neighbors. We are able to love, that is, we are gifted with the capacity for love, to love in virtue of our creation by Love Himself. He loved us first so that we might love. Lastly, as His willing priests, our lives are made new again, reconstituted from the smallest cell out, gifted with the newest possible life available, the life of His Son. We are made Christ for others. We are the walking Word, the talking Word, the feeling, doing, working Word—priests forever now in an entirely sacrificial life of becoming perfectly His will in the flesh.

This young Jewish woman, given a choice by Gabriel, says YES to His will for her, and becomes the first Christian priest and prophet, the template from whom all of us as future priests and prophets will be pressed out. On the cross, dying for our sakes, the Lord himself follows his mother in saying yes. Abandoned by his friends, betrayed by one he loves, despairing, seemingly lost to pain and death, and believing himself to have been forsaken to his enemies, our Lord will cry out to His Father, “Yes! I will all that you will!” His life of perpetual sacrifice begins. This is what we long for. This is what we desire, what we need. Though we are constantly deflected and distracted in our priestly obligations to be love and to love others, we nonetheless know and feel the ineffable hollowness of a life that refuses to love, that wills not to be one for another.

Advent is one long Mass of Thanksgiving and Praise, a month-long prayer of rejoicing and sacrifice as we turn away from sin and toward our perfection in Christ. What must we do? Unclench your fist. Unlock your heart. Fling open wide your mind. Make straight the path of the Lord to your very existence. Say YES! And join Christ at the altar as priest and victim. He is coming. He has come. He will come again. Wait. Need. Desire. And the flood of God as the Gift of Love Himself will overwhelm you and make you Christ.

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15 December 2013

Make your heart firm by rejoicing

3rd Sunday of Advent/Gaudete Sunday (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

As a newly oiled priest, I served in campus ministry at the University of Dallas. Our office in the student union was always roiling with activity. During the Advent season, which arrives just before the end of the semester and finals week, the liturgical energy of the office was always focused on Christmas. Christmas music. Christmas decorations. Christmas chatter. On occasion, frustrated with such blatant liturgical incorrectness, I would growl something anti-Christmas from my office-cave and remind everyone that we were in Advent not Christmas. The students would smile indulgently; murmur, “Yes, Father, we know,” and go right back to their Christmasy chatter. I become known as The Advent Nazi, or Friar Grinch. The only support afforded me in my lonely push to keep Christmas out of Advent was James' letter “to the twelve tribes in the dispersion,” where the apostle urges his Jewish-Christian community: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” All of Advent is about patiently waiting for the birth of Christ. Gaudete Sunday is all about rejoicing, and rejoicing never waits!

So, why do we celebrate Gaudete Sunday during Advent? Three words: joy, expectation, revelation. 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 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. 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. 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. I'm told again and again, “Stop being Father Grinch, Father!” And 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
Properly understood then, Gaudete Sunday is more than just 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. Where do we find joy? 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? Don't we usually think 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. 
This waiting for another spike in joy is not what the Lord has in mind when tells us that he has come so that our “joy may be complete.” Complete joy is not intermittent joy, or joy-for-some-time-in-the-future. Complete joy is perfected joy, all-the-time-joy. This doesn't mean that we're supposed to be walking around with idiot grins on our faces, or leaping about like squirrels on speed. Remember: joy is caused by love. And, as followers of Christ, we all know that loving God, others, and self is the First Commandment. Being joyful then is a necessary corollary to this command, its natural effect. If Thomas is right—and, of course, he is—we can be perfectly joyful b/c the “presence of the thing loved” (i.e., God) is guaranteed. He is with us always. Even during Advent, while we wait for his arrival, he is with us. When James writes, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord,” he knows that Christ never left and will come again. How is our joy made perfect? By the perfect presence of the one we love. Our waiting in Advent is practice; that is, a rehearsal meant to heighten our anticipation for the renewal of creation, the renewal that both Isaiah and Jesus prophesy as the mark of God's favor.

That renewal goes well beyond my renewal, your renewal, and the renewal of the entire human race. Though we are privileged in many ways as creatures created in His image and likeness, God's favor is universal, repairing every deficiency; healing every wound; and making straight the crooked paths to His righteousness. Isaiah sees the land itself rejoicing at the Lord's return: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” When John's disciples ask Jesus about his ministry, Jesus replies, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. . .” In the presence of God, nothing broken, thrown away, disparaged, or lost remains unclaimed; no one hurt, hungry, poor, or lonely remains untended. There is nothing to fear, nothing worth fearing. Therefore, Isaiah says, “Strengthen your feeble hands, steady your weak knees, encourage those with frightened hearts: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God! He comes with vindication; with divine justice He comes to save you.” 
And save you He will, if you will to be saved. Ask to be saved and be patient. Wait upon the Lord. James writes, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient.” How does the farmer wait on the rain? He does everything necessary before the rain arrives, everything necessary so that the rain can do its best work for his benefit. The farmer's waiting is never merely passive. He waits, but he works while he waits. James says, “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” That's our work while we wait: making our hearts firm. . .not hard but firm. A firm heart never faints in fear, or flutters with impatience, or races with undue excitement. A firm heart beats with steady, consistent joy in the loving presence of God; a firm heart is always pointed toward the Lord and never forgets the Way of righteousness. Waiting—especially waiting upon the Lord—is good exercise for the heart. We wait for a revelation at Christmas, the unveiling of the Christ Child, Emmanuel. Tonight, we rejoice b/c he is with us even now. We rejoice b/c he arrives. . .again. And our renewal, the renewal of all of creation is at hand! “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return. . .crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, and sorrow and mourning will flee.”

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Procrastination Music, or Sing Me Another Nap

My taste in music is a lot like my taste in movies. . .Kinda Redneck. 

I don't buy CD's or download mp3's. Mostly, I just listen to standard urban radio and that means Top 40 stuff.

If I'm reading, I will listen to something incredibly pretentious like Japanese lutes or Russian Orthodox chant.

I do like some alternative music, but so much of it has passed me by since I stopped paying attention.  Past favs: The Smiths, Sonic Youth, New Order.

In an effort to catch-up I surfed around YouTube (instead of grading papers, composing spring semester syllabi, or writing a Gaudete Sunday homily) and found something I really like.

This link will take you to a music mix-up that features songs from 20+ contemporary groups that fall roughly into what's being called "post-rock."

The music is ambient and somewhat unsettling at times. Lots of piano, violins, soft vocals, etc. 

One of the bands I particularly like is Mogwai, a group out of Glascow. 

NB. When I listen to the music mix-up linked above, I minimize the YouTube screen and just listen. . .so, the vids that accompany the music could be inappropriate or offensive in some way. I've never seen them.

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13 December 2013

Wise Works Vindicate

“. . .wisdom is vindicated by her works” (Matthew 11.19)

Ever practical and very much aware of our human frailties, Jesus dares us to do more than simply be wise. He dares us to work wisely, or to accomplish wise works. The phrase “wisdom is vindicated by her works” is comparable to “without works faith is dead.” While wisdom and faith are different virtues, the works that complete each virtue look very much alike. The difference might be that while good works show faith, wise works vindicate wisdom. Generally, we use “vindicate” to mean something like “to right a wrong.” However, an obsolete use of the word makes much more sense here: “to set free.” Consider: “wisdom is set free by her works,” or “wisdom is let loose by her works.” In the context of Jesus' remarks in Matthew, this rendition helps us to understand that the false charges being made against the Lord will be seen as false once his wisdom is set free/let loose by his wise works. The question is: who among his enemies then and among us even now have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the wisdom of his words and deeds?

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12 December 2013

Hear Elizabeth say to you. . .

NB. I partially chickened-out. The first part of this homily will be improvised.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

[Vocation story: encounter at the Altar of the Kings, National Cathedral in Mexico City, 1981.]

How do you hear God's Word spoken to you? When God sends word to you, when He calls out your name and picks you up to accomplish His will, how do you hear Him? Mary hears and sees an angel. Elizabeth hears and sees Mary. John, still in his mother's womb, leaps with joy at just being near the Lord. Mary, Elizabeth, John all respond viscerally to the Word; that is, not only are they moved spiritually—their souls lightened, hearts and minds brightened—their viscera, their guts are churned, stirred up. In the presence of the Word and at his approach, these servants of God are snared; they are toiled-up-in the embracing glory of their Savior. From her divine trap, Elizabeth prophesies to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” How do you hear the Word spoken to you? 
Now, it's highly unlikely that any of us will be visited by Gabriel, or run across a burning bush, or hear Christ speak to us from a crucifix. That these miraculous events are improbable shouldn't prevent us from waiting on the Word. Waiting requires patience; it requires silence. Waiting—especially waiting on the Word—also requires perseverance, a long, hard dedication to sticking with it, staying firmly balanced btw Doing the Will of the Lord Now and being prepared to leap into Doing His Will Next. But more than anything else, waiting on the Word demands that we surrender ourselves to the inevitable strangeness of God's ways; that is, if we decide beforehand how we will hear Him, we may never hear Him. Leave aside for the moment the need to forget what we think we ought to hear Him say and focus on the way we expect to hear. Mary, Elizabeth, John all hear and see the glory of their Savior in different ways. Abraham, Moses, Elijah hear and see the same Word spelled in radically different ways. What they all recognize in the Word is joy. Not simply an emotional elation or a fleeting thrill but the lightness and brightness, the pleasure of just being near the source of the Father's mercy. 

While you balance btw Now and What Comes Next, open yourself to joy, open yourself to the visceral punch of delight that our Lord will swing your way. Do this and you will hear Elizabeth say to you, “Blessed are you who believe that what is spoken to you by the Lord is fulfilled.”
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11 December 2013

Do you believe that His word is fulfilled?

NB. I will be the principal celebrant at tomorrow's NDS Mass. Right now I'm planning on preaching w/o a text. . .who knows, I may chicken out in the morning. Here's a OLG homily from 2011.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Just last week—on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception—we heard the archangel Gabriel declare to Mary, “Hail, full of grace! Blessed are you among women for you have found favor with God.” Tonight we read about Mary's visit to her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, a woman who's been barren her whole life and is now pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary greets her cousin, John leaps with joy in his mother's womb. And Elizabeth, in a fit of wonder and faith confirms the angel's greeting to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. . .Blessed are you [Mary] who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Do you, like Mary, believe that what is spoken to you by the Lord will be fulfilled? And if you believe, do you act in the world as one who has been spoken to by God? 

Elizabeth proclaims Mary “blessed” b/c she—Mary—believed what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. And b/c she believes His word, she submits her will to the will of God and now carries in her womb the Word made flesh. For centuries, almost since the very beginning, the Church has held our Blessed Mother up as the model of Christian service, the model of what it means to say Yes to the Father's invitation to allow His Word to take root in the human soul. If Mary is the model of the faithful Church; and the Church is the Body of Christ; and we are all members of that Body, then it follows that Mary's fiat—let it be done to me according to His word—is also our response to the Father's invitation to welcome and allow His Word to take root in each one of us. If we hear this invitation and raise our own fiat, then Elizabeth's praise of Mary is also her praise for us: “Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled.” Likewise, Mary's response to Elizabeth's praise is our response as well, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” 

Does your soul proclaim the Lord's greatness? Does your spirit rejoice in your Savior? We can all understand why Mary would sing out like this. She's been visited by an archangel. She's been given the Son of God as her child. She's been favored above all women and called blessed. She's got every reason to say that her soul proclaims God's greatness and that her spirit rejoices in her Savior. Why would any of us repeat her proclamation? We've not been visited by an angel or given birth to the Word made flesh or been called blessed and most favored. Oh, but we have. Not in the same way that Mary was, but we have most certainly been given the Word made flesh and blood in the sacrament. And we've heard His Word spoken many, many times at Mass. The question is: do we believe that His Word will be fulfilled? Do we act in the world in a way that demonstrates our belief? If we do, then our souls do proclaim the greatness of God and our spirits do rejoice in our Savior. If you don't, if you don't believe and act on His Word, then there is a way to get right with God. Confession, repentance, and penance: receiving in the sacrament of confession the forgiveness won for us by the Cross and Empty Tomb. 

Sin is the principal means used by the Enemy to prevent us from giving God his dutiful worship and from carrying out our vow to be Christs in the world. Plain and simple. Sin. Disobedience. The Enemy tempts, and we fall. But falling is never a reason to stay fallen. Get back up and receive all that Christ died to freely give you. God loves you and wants you to participate in His divine life. But He will not coerce you; He will not dominate or intimidate us into living with Him. He invites, seduces, exhorts, all but pleads. Confess, repent, and do penance so that you may follow Mary into blessedness. 

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09 December 2013

Mary's Dangerous Yes

NB. My very first I.C. homily. . .2005:
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Gen 3.9-15, 20; Eph 1.3-6, 11-12; Luke 1.26-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Madonna Hall, University of Dallas
It is the most dangerous announcement ever made: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” The angel Gabriel, sent by God to Mary, greets the virgin by telling her that she is most graced, wholly blessed, chosen, and attended by the Lord. Very, very dangerous. And Mary knew this: “But she was greatly troubled…” Greatly troubled?! Troubled…and wise. Mary pondered the angelic greeting with dread. She understood that this particular, unique grace picked her out of all God’s creatures. She understood that receiving an angel from the Lord meant a mission, a purpose beyond a mortal end, a life for her of singular graces, an honored life of doing the Father’s will for His glory. Dangerous? You bet!

Mary is being asked by the Lord to serve as bearer of the world’s salvation, the vessel of the Word, and the Mother of a nation redeemed. Saying yes to this places her at that moment in time, that instant of human history where the Divine takes on flesh, sets out toward selfless sacrifice, and heals us all. In her ministry to all creation, the virgin gives her body, her will, for the rest of us so that the Infinite Word might speak Itself as a Finite Word and gather us together into a single heart, a single mind, one voice in witness to the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.[1] She is the mother of our salvation, the perfected vessel of our eternal healing. Mary is a preacher of the gospel, the first preacher of the Word—the most dangerous job there is.

When we took on the responsibility of bearing the Word to the world—when we became preachers—we took on the dangers of opposing all that the world worships as good. Speaking the Word of Truth against the Lie riles up the worst resentments and the most violent frustrations of those in the world who resent Mary’s Yes, who resent the gift of the Christ Child, and who turn their faces against his invitation to participate in the Divine Life. The danger for us here is twofold: 1) that we are punished as the causes of the resentment and frustration among those who reject the Word and 2) that we succumb to the temptation to see these people as hopeless, beyond reach, and deserving of temporal punishment. The first—that we are blamed—is becoming common enough. The second—our judgment of others—is scandalously common and unworthy of the virgin-child who made our own Yes possible.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is first a celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God as man. Mary’s dangerous Yes to God prepares the way of the Lord, make possible his advent in creation, and establishes her as the first preacher of the Word. Her clean conception in the womb of her mother points us unswervingly to God’s mercy, unswervingly to God’s invitation to bear His Word to the world with unyielding charity, steely will, and the mercy of truth.

We can meet the dangers of violent opposition and avoid the dangers of judging others by submitting ourselves in both cases to the ministry of the handmaid: “Lord, let your will be done in me according to your Word.”

[1] See Prayer, Hans Urs von Balthasar, 157.

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Recommended Books for Catholics

The second most often asked question to a Dominican friar -- the first being: how do you keep that white habit clean?! -- is: "Friar, can you recommend a good book on ___________?"

I usually have at least one book in mind for most occasions.

This morning I ran across an excellent list of recommended books on all things theological, philosophical, cultural, and scientific!

Check it out:  Recommended Books for Catholics

The science section doesn't include any recommendations from John Polkinghorne, my Ph.L. thesis topic. So, check him out too.

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08 December 2013

Make straight the path

2nd Sunday of Advent (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of Rosary, NOLA

What does John come to do? When he walks out of the wilderness—a wild man, a prophet of God—what is his mission? Isaiah tells us, A voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'” John is that voice. Eight-hundred years after Isaiah prophesied the coming of a desert-voice, John arrives to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Turn around. Go back. Get yourself right. The King is coming! Receive baptism with water to wash yourself clean and mark yourself repentant. Why? “Even now,” John preaches, “the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” What does John come to do? When he walks out of the wilderness—a wild man, a prophet of God—what is his mission? John's mission, our mission is to make straight the path for the Lord; to straighten the path to our hearts by repenting of our sins. Are you ready for the King's arrival? 
John warns us that when the King arrives, “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” That image—the fire of the Holy Spirit and the fire of judgment—should both comfort us and frighten us. John makes it clear that upon his arrival the King will sit in judgment: “He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” That's the frightening part b/c we have to ask ourselves: am I wheat, or am I chaff? The better question, the comforting question is: do I want to be wheat or chaff? Do I want to be gathered into the Lord's barn, or do I want to burn in a unquenchable fire? Asked that way, the answer seems obvious! “Well, duh, of course I want to be among the wheat that's gathered into the Lord's barn!” But we can say that and still think and speak and behave as if we long to be consumed in the fires of judgment. As primitive as this scenario may sound to our sophisticated 21st century ears, the fact is, God loves us and will honor our daily decisions to live apart from Him. And He will honor those decisions forever. Thus, John, fulfilling his mission as a prophet of repentance, calls us back to the Way, back to the path of righteousness so that our hearts and minds can faithfully follow Christ. The choice is ours to make. Repent and prepare the way of the Lord, or carry on in disobedience and prepare the way to an eternal death.

This is the choice that John gives the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to be baptized by him. He confronts them squarely with the discrepancy btw their desire for baptism and their words and deeds: “You brood of vipers!” he yells, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Now, it's not clear why these upstanding religious figures were coming to a disreputable wild man like John for baptism. Maybe they saw his popularity and hoped to cash in on it, or perhaps they saw an opportunity to siphon off some of his followers. Maybe they heard his preaching and sincerely desired to repent. Regardless, John doesn't receive them well. He accuses them of ignoring God's prophets of old and of living in hypocrisy. To remedy their offense, he demands that their behavior match their intention. He shouts at them: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” And just in case that they believe their status as descendents of Abraham will save them, he adds, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” From all this shouting we know two truths: first, good intentions w/o good behavior are useless; and second, who we are matters not at all when it comes to the final judgment. We are all judged according to our deeds.

This shouldn't worry us at all b/c bearing good fruit comes easy to the followers of Christ, right? I mean, as men and women imbued with the Holy Spirit in water and fire, we live and breath as members of the Body of Christ. So, we have nothing much to worry about. Unfortunately, we all know the disappointment of intending the good while doing evil. The idea that we can want one thing while working for its exact opposite doesn't surprise us, does it? It's an almost universal human failing. We want to grow in holiness, yet consistently make choices that keep us from using His gifts. We want to stay away from sin, yet we constantly put ourselves near temptation. It's almost as if we can see the perfection we desire but believe that it is beyond our reach, beyond our merely human means to acquire. Well, the perfection we long for is beyond our merely human means to acquire! So are the good works that John the Baptist tells us we must do as evidence of our repentance. Bearing the good fruits of the Holy Spirit doesn't come naturally to us b/c the gifts required to produce those good fruits are supernatural. When we bear good fruit we do so only b/c we are cooperating with the supernatural gifts given to us by God.
What are those gifts? Isaiah tells us when describing the promised Messiah, “. . .a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” Wisdom is the gift that allows us to know and love the things of God more than the things of man. Understanding perfects our ability to judge the truth against the lies of the world. Counsel makes it possible for us to distinguish right from wrong and to choose the right. The gift of strength empowers us to stand for what it is true, good, and beautiful against all assaults. The gift of knowledge gives us a glimpse of the divine in creation, revealing the hand of God in His works. Fear of the Lord is the gift of awe in His majesty, and to delight in that awe is gift of reverence. These gifts of the Holy Spirit perfect and strengthen the virtues we receive at baptism: faith, hope, and charity. Now, you may ask: Isaiah is describing the gifts that the Messiah will exhibit, what do those gifts have to do with us? They have everything to do with us b/c we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. What gifts he received from the Father, we receive as his brothers and sisters. He used these gifts to teach and preach the Good News of God's mercy. Now we follow him.

And we follow him best by heeding his herald, John. What does John come to do? When he walks out of the wilderness—a wild man, a prophet of God—what is his mission? He is charged with proclaiming a simple, prophetic message: “Repent and prepare the way of the Lord!” Are you ready? Is the path to your heart and mind straight and level? Are you prepared to received Christ the King? You have everything you could possibly need. You know and love God. You can tell the difference btw good and evil. You can judge rightly and chose wisely. You have the strength to resist temptation and fight the good fight. You can stand in awe of God and offer Him the worship that is His due. What do you think you might lack? What gift do you believe you still need? While we remain in this time of preparation, we can spend some time in sacrifice—make some of our time holy—by offering our weaknesses and failures to God. We can resolve to make better use of His freely given gifts. We can grow in humility and make ourselves better vessels to receive His Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repentance is the first step, but it is not the last. You must prepare His way, make straight and level the path to your heart and your mind. The King of Glory is coming.

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