12 January 2013

A people eager to do what is good

The Baptism of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

All that the Old Covenant with Abraham promises, the New Covenant in Christ Jesus fulfills. God makes a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He repeats this promise to their children and their children's children for generations. The promise is delivered again and again by fire, cloud, water, blood; by war and prosperity; by disease and good health; in slavery and in freedom from slavery. And in the voices of the prophets He sends to warn and plead with His people, God speaks one final promise: I will send my Servant to suffer and die for My people; to free them from sin; to show them my mercy and love; and to bring them all back home to Me. The Lord says through Isaiah, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit. . .” Eight hundred years after Isaiah records this prophecy, Jesus of Nazareth emerges from the River Jordan, baptized by John his herald, and hears a voice from heaven say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Thus begins the public ministry of the Christ among God's people and the ministry of God's people among the nations. 

Luke records the moment: “After. . .Jesus had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” Recall Isaiah's 800 yr old prophecy, “Here is my servant. . .upon whom I have put my spirit.” As the Holy Spirit descends, Jesus hears a voice proclaim, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Again, recall Isaiah, “Here is my servant. . .my chosen one with whom I am pleased. . .” These parallels are striking b/c the New Covenant fulfills the Old. In Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism, John refuses to baptize Jesus, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus answers, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The phrase “to fulfill all righteousness” means “to make good on God's promises, to do all that is right in the sight of the Father.” John's public baptism of the Father's Son fulfills the 800 yr old prophecy given to Isaiah. The suffering servant upon whom the Lord places His holy spirit, the one He upholds, is among us, and his mission to save us is begun. What is his mission? How does he save us? And what is our part in this salvation drama? 

The first part of Isaiah's 800 yr old prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus' baptism, so we can argue that the second part is fulfilled in his public ministry. Isaiah prophesies: “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice. . .and set you as a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement. . .those who live in darkness. . .[you] shall bring forth justice to the nations. . .” Hearing this we might conclude that the savior the Lord sends among us is a warrior-king, a battle-prince, one trained to command armies and conquer nations in bloood. And we would be right. However, as we all know, the sword Christ wields is not forged of steel but of light, the light of truth, and the blood he spills is his own. His justice is not a legal settlement, a constitutional amendment, or a defense of natural rights. His freedom is not a license to do as we please and then demand that the neighbors to pay the bill. The prisoners Christ frees are held captive by all the injustices born of from the womb of human disobedience. Therefore, his public ministry is the preaching and teaching of the Good News, the good news that our Father has forgiven our trespasses against Him and only waits for us to receive His freely given mercy. We are the freest we will ever be this side of heaven when we obey the law of divine love. 

Jesus of Nazareth is baptized in the River Jordan so that he can fulfill all righteousness. In obedience to his example and explicit command, we too are baptized and set out on a mission identical to his. Paul writes to Titus, “[God] saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit [through Christ]. . .” Why? “. . .So that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” In the water of baptism, we are made right with God, and we receive as an inheritance the hope of life eternal. We are made righteous heirs to heaven as a gift, a freely given heritage as children of God. What do we do with this gift right now? His grace “train[s] us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly. . .as we await [Christ's return].” Jesus, baptized in water and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, “gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.” Are we his people, a people cleansed from lawlessness? Are we a people eager to do what is good? Do we live in the blessed hope of his return? 

All that the Old Covenant with Abraham promises, the New Covenant in Christ Jesus fulfills. God makes a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob make their promises to God in turn: to live according to His laws, in peace with one another, always seeking justice, and honoring Him alone as their heavenly Father. God's promises are delivered again and again in flame, smoke, flood, and tears; through violence and peace; by injury and healing; in exile and deliverance from exile. And from the mouths of the prophets He sends to admonish and beg His people, God speaks one last promise: I will send my Servant to suffer and die for My people; to free them from sin; to show them my mercy and love; and to bring them all back home to Me. That servant, our Savior, has arrived. And though he has long ago ascended to the Father, his public ministry continues. . .in those who are baptized in his name, confirmed in the Holy Spirit, and grow holy on the food and drink of his body and blood. Twenty-eight hundred years after Isaiah records his prophecy; and two thousand years after John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan, we emerge from the waters of baptism and hear a voice say, “You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.” 

Christ's mission among his Father's people is to preach and teach the good news that all is forgiven. Receive His forgiveness and come home. Christ gave himself to death so that we might know what divine love truly is: sacrifice for another. When we live in obedience to the law of divine love—sacrificing for one another—we are living our days in holy justice, and giving public witness to the power of God's mercy to repair ruined lives; to free souls from sin and death; to shine the light of truth in the darkness, and guide anyone who wants it to His peace. The history of our salvation is scarred with human failure and the ugly consequences of that failure. If we see history repeating itself—the cycle of laxity, licentiousness, debauchery, and exhausted collapse—then our blessed hope in life eternal becomes all the more blessed. But whatever history fires at us, whatever this world throws at us, our mission—baptized and confirmed—it never changes. We bless the Lord. Live in righteousness. Work for peace. Forgive one another. Love one another, especially those who call themselves our enemies. And we never cease in preaching and teaching the overwhelming mercy of God, freely given and waiting to be received. Christ died to cleanse for himself a people to be his own, a people eager to do only what is good. 

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11 January 2013

What am I doing wrong? (Updated)

OK. . .what gives?

I've been noticing for the last couple of months that traffic to HA has been dropping. . .

Less traffic is a given during the holidays, but the trend has continued well beyond Christmas and New Years.

Am I doing something wrong? Do I smell bad? Is it my breath? What is it?

Blogspot has done something so that visitors from outside the US are sent to a regional or national address instead of the US address, so maybe the stats are skewed accordingly.

Anyway. . .both the Church and the Order have called upon priests/religious to use the internet to evangelize.  I started HA principally to post my homilies. . .and occasionally to vent a little crankiness (blush).

Since 2005, the number of Catholic blogs has exploded. . .for which I am exceedingly grateful and happy. Maybe it's time for a makeover or a vacation or something? I dunno. . .

So, here are my questions:

1). What am I doing that I shouldn't be doing?

2). What am I not doing that I should be doing?

HA lives to serve the Catholic blogosphere!  

NB.  Update:  Just to be clear:  my worry is NOT about a drop in traffic for the sake of the traffic. I don't link ads on HA or get $$$ from Google.  My worry is that the drop in traffic indicates that I am not doing something needful for HA readers. Thus, the questions above.

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Wishing ain't willing

Friday after Epiphany
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Let's see if you heard what I heard in the conversation btw Jesus and the leper. Here it is again: “'Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.' Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, 'I do will it. Be made clean.'” Did you catch it? Both equate leprosy with being unclean; this is, sinful. Both are talking about making the leper clean. Both indicate that Jesus is the one to accomplish this miracle. But none of these is the catch I'm talking about. The leper says, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus doesn't say, “I do wish it. Be made clean.” He says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leper believes that if Jesus makes him clean, he did so b/c he wishes to. But Jesus knows that there's no wishing involved in his mission to forgive sin. It's all about his will and the will of his Father in heaven. So, he wills that the leper be made clean—he moves himself, involves himself, actively goes out of his way to do the cleansing. Do you believe that Jesus merely wishes you were clean? Or do you believe that he wills that you be made clean and then cleans you? 

The difference btw “wishing” and “willing” in English is clear enough. If you don't believe me, consider this: “I wish to pay taxes” and “I will pay taxes.” Hear the difference? Even though the original Greek of this passage uses one verb, the same verb for both “wish” and “will,” I'm grateful, as a sinner and a preacher, for the chance to distinguish them and point out why we should believe that Jesus wills our cleansing from sin. Set against the whimsical nature of wishing, willing is all the more comforting for its certainty. Jesus might have gone about the countryside wishing all sorts of fanciful things to happen. Since he didn't come among us as a genie or a wizard, we can say with confidence that none of them did. What he wished to happen, didn't; however, all that he willed to happen, did. The leper is cleansed. The blind see. The deaf hear. And all of God's children—all of us, from creation to right now—are given the chance to accept and receive God's mercy for our sins and establish with Him a life of righteousness. Have you ever heard yourself say something like, “I wish I could be holy. I wish I could be at peace”? Well, stop it! The leper wished to be cleansed, but the Lord willed it. If you will to be holy, then be holy. If you will to be at peace, then be at peace. 

How many times do you think the leper wished himself clean? Thousands? Millions? Given the slow, rotting nature of the disease and the fact that it made him a social pariah, I doubt there was a second of his many unclean days that he didn't wish himself clean. If you are living with the disease of sin, suffering the consequences of your disobedience, and walking around wishing to be forgiven. . .well, stop it! Stop wishing to be forgiven and understand that you have already been forgiven. Follow the leper's example: come to Christ and receive his will—the will that you be made clean. Jesus may have wished that all the lepers in Judea be made clean. But only one came forward, prostrated himself, and received the Lord's will that he be healed. And that's why we know about him. What do we know about all the lepers Jesus may have wished to be made clean? They died lepers. What do we know about all the sinners Jesus wishes would come clean. . .? Our leper is a victor over his disease b/c he believes that Jesus is the Christ and b/c he asks and receives what Christ wills: his healing and life everlasting. 

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10 January 2013

The begotten of God conquer the world

Thursday after Epiphany
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Our faith is the triumph that conquers the world. Not swords or bullets or boycotts or drones. But faith: our steadfast trust in God's promise that all we need do to win victory over sin is receive His forgiveness through Christ and live in the spirit of love he sent to dwell among us. John announces two triumphs when he writes, “. . .the victory that conquers the world is our faith.” There is the victory over personal doubt and delusion; and there is that victory's win over the world. The first win—the personal triumph—is won against the temptations fired at each one of us from the Enemy's camp, the steady pounding of noise, stench, illusion, and distraction. This battle is won when you and I return the enemy's fire with prayer, good deeds, compassion, and mercy. The second win—our victory over the world—is won against the besieging spirits of despair, hatred, violence, and self-indulgence. This battle is won when all of us together show those besieged by evil the power of hope, love, peace, and generosity. All who are begotten by God conquer the world b/c the world is always defeated in love. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian martyred by the Nazis at Flossenberg in 1945, wrote, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.” Courageously and actively doing God's will certainly entails avoiding sin but carefully maneuvering around temptations is only the beginning of holiness. When Jesus rolls up the scroll containing Isaiah's prophecies, he leaves in the air the ringing word of our mission: bring glad tidings to the poor; proclaim liberty to captives; announce the recovery of sight to the blind; release the oppressed into freedom; and declare a year favorable to the Lord. This is not merely a social justice mission or an agenda for worldly political liberation. That kind struggle hardly needs a Christ. The revolution we fight for seeks the overthrow of humanity's greatest oppressor: the Father of Lies. The one who impoverishes nations families with greed; enslaves the foolish with their own lusts; blinds the innocent with fables of pride and wrath; oppresses the many through envy and gluttony; and declares every year, every day good for rebellion against the One Who loves us despite our disobedience. Simply avoiding sin cannot spark a votive candle much less set loose a firestorm of holiness. For that we must seek to do the will of the Father. 

And what does God will for us? We already know that He wills that we live with Him forever. We know too that He wills for us to live lives of holiness in love so that His glory may increase among the nations. To see His will accomplished, we must, above all, love. Love Him and one another. We've heard this a gazillion-zillion times. It's almost become a formal noise, like the mumbled “hey, how you doing?” we use to greet strangers. But for the sake of Christ and the salvation of your immortal soul, listen: “. . .we love God because he first loved us.” If you love anyone—mom, dad, kids, spouse, anyone—you are able to love them b/c (for the reason that) God loves us all. IOW, when you love someone, you establish and maintain your participation in Divine Love. And it is only through Divine Love—God Himself—that we are saved from sin and made holy. This is why Jesus' announcement in the temple is so important: he is saying, “I am here as promised. The Word made flesh. Love given flesh and bone.” He shows us that we too can be love given flesh and bone. In fact, if we entertain any hope at all of eternal life, we will spend our days and nights finding ways to love better and more, much, much more. Do the will of the Father with courage. And each time you do, witness the Enemy's defeat by love. 

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Grazie, grazie. . .

My mendicant gratitude to two Book Benefactors:

Fr. Paul P. for A Primer on Postmodernism


Evandro M. for Redeeming Truth: Considering Faith and Reason

Both of these books will get a very good work-out in the next few years!


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09 January 2013

Banish fear forever

Wednesday after Epiphany
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The gospel reading this evening ends with a sad indictment of the disciples. After Jesus calms the angry sea and rescuing his friends from a watery grave, Mark writes, “[The disciples] were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.” It is sad that they are astounded by Jesus' power to calm the sea and even sadder that they did not understand the signs given to them when he fed the five thousand. As sad as these failures are, it is saddest of all that their hearts have hardened against accepting the truth of Jesus' true nature and mission. What does all this sad failure tell us about the disciples? At the very least, we know why they were so frightened by the storm and by Jesus walking on the water to save them. With hearts hardened against both understanding and love, the disciples are left with no other way to see and feel the world than through fear. They are terrified at the prospect of drowning, and even the appearance of their Master on the waves is not enough to quell their fear. John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” Christ is with us. There is no place for fear among us. So, take heart! 

When we say that a heart has grown hard, we mean that it is no longer capable—on its own—of serving its spiritual function: it can no longer love; that is, it can no longer seat Love Himself at the center of the human soul. Without Love Himself seated in the center of our souls, no soul can begin even to dream of seeing and understanding the miraculous signs Christ performs, much less see and understand his true nature and mission. Without Love Himself seated at the center of their lives, the disciples are ignorant and loveless men chosen by Christ to learn and love instead of fear; yet, their fear is what keeps them from learning and loving. Their fear reaches its terrific peak at Jesus' arrest in the Garden, and they surrender to the temptation to abandon him. Only after the descent of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love between the Father and the Son, do they find their hearts grown large enough to hold all the love they need to take on the Christ-nature and make his mission their own. But now, in a boat on an angry sea, they cry out in astonishment and fear, and they hear Jesus say, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” Take heart! Christ is with us. And there is no place for fear among us. 

Without Love Himself seated in our hearts, we cannot begin even to dream of seeing and understanding the miraculous signs Christ performs, much less see and understand his true nature and mission. And understanding that nature and mission is more than a matter of historical curiosity. By receiving his body and blood in this sacrifice of thanksgiving, each one of us who receives commits him/herself to taking on Christ's nature and to making his mission our own. We take one more step toward becoming fully human; that is, to becoming more perfectly human, completely giving ourselves over to the Father for His divine purpose. But fear stands btw each one of us and total surrender to God. The spirit of not-knowing-what-comes; the spirit of worry, anxiety, turmoil floats there tempting us to run, to just give up. And no amount of argument, evidence, or tears will move us around those gnawing spirits. John tells us, “. . .one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” So, we know that perfect love moves fear, and there is only one Perfect Love: God Himself. Thanks be to God that Christ is with us always. Now, take one more step toward becoming Christ for one another and banish fear forever. 

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Totalitarianism in the West: "To permit the State to claim authority over [moral] knowledge is to reduce morality to politics, which is to reduce it to power."

Swirling the Bowl: "persuasive evidence for the harmfulness of paedophilic relationships does not yet exist."

Legislating Happiness: "Inventing 'civil rights' that contradict natural rights does not solve a problem of personal unhappiness."

Is Sandy B.O.'s Katrina?  “Where is the government? We need gasoline! We’re gonna die. We’re gonna freeze.”

Doing the penance before doing the sin: "But the new liberal aristocracy is far less discreet than the old."

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08 January 2013


Rec'd Fanny Howe's volume of poetry, Come and See this morning. . .

Thanks to the anonymous Book Benefactor who sent this gem my way!

Fr. Philip, OP

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07 January 2013

Celebrate Jesus as the Christ

Monday after The Epiphany
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Over the Christmas holidays I saw a commercial on the DIY channel: a young man and woman are talking about car insurance. The woman confesses that she believes everything that she reads on the internet b/c nothing false is allowed to be published on the web. The man looks at her incredulously and asks about her evening plans. She says, “I have a date with this guy from the internet. He's a French model.” Just then, an unattractive man with unkempt hair and giving off a creepy serial killer vibe shows up. He approaches the woman and says, with a heavy mid-western American accent, “Bon jour!” She smiles and walks off with him arm-in-arm. Besides good sense, what is this young woman lacking? The ability to discern the difference btw truth and deceit. She believes that everything she reads on the internet is true. Why? B/c the internet says so. The false reasoning of this circular argument escapes her. How often do we Christians mistake error for truth? How often do we accept falsehood as gospel-truth just b/c our favorite priest says so, or b/c an alleged Marian apparition in Boolakistan says so? “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God. . .”

John urges his people to discern the difference btw the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit. How do we identify these two spirits? He gives us two tests: 1). “. . .every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God. . .” and 2) “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God.” Think of this as the Epiphany Test; that is, the test to see whether or not the person teaching or preaching possesses a spirit of truth by acknowledging Jesus as the Christ. Now, it would be all too simple a thing if this test required nothing more than a declaration of faith in Christ. Even the Devil knows that Jesus is the Christ. In Greek, the word “acknowledges” is homologei, which literally means “of one mind” and is used to say, “I agree, declare, profess.” But it also has a specific flavoring when used for a Jewish audience: “I praise, celebrate.” What's the difference btw “I agree that Jesus is the Christ” and “I celebrate that Jesus is the Christ”? We can imagine the denizens of hell professing the former but not the latter. Like the magi of the Epiphany, a person possessed by the spirit of truth will always praise AND celebrate the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ! 

John's particular concern in his letter is the prevalence and influence of false prophets among his people. These prophets are Gnostic Christians who deny that Jesus was truly human. Their teachings threaten not only the integrity of the apostolic witness but also the unity of Christian purpose that the Church guarantees. John wants to encourage his orthodox flock, so he writes, “We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us.” We could read this as a statement of class privilege, or a declaration that we are somehow better than others. In fact, with this statement John imposes on us a grave responsibility. If we belong to God, then we are responsible for telling the truth about the Christ so that those who do not yet belong to God may come to Him for His glory. Belonging to God is not a privilege; it doesn't set us above anyone. If anything, belonging to God requires us to serve in deed and truth. Thus, the necessity of being able and eager to discern the truth by first celebrating Jesus as the Christ. “We receive from him whatever we ask. . .” Ask to be possessed by the spirit of truth so that your deeds in love may serve His eternal purpose. 

P.S.  I found the commercial on Youtube after finishing the homily, so my quote isn't accurate.  Close enough. 

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06 January 2013

The Magi and Our Bishops

This is the deacons' weekend to preach, so I thought a little taste of BXVI's homily for Epiphany Sunday would be good.  During this Mass in Rome, the Holy Father ordained four men bishops, thus the focus on the nature and character of the episcopate: 

[. . .]

Let us return to the Wise Men from the East. These were also, and above all, men of courage, the courage and humility born of faith. Courage was needed to grasp the meaning of the star as a sign to set out, to go forth – towards the unknown, the uncertain, on paths filled with hidden dangers. We can imagine that their decision was met with derision: the scorn of those realists who could only mock the reveries of such men. Anyone who took off on the basis of such uncertain promises, risking everything, could only appear ridiculous. But for these men, inwardly seized by God, the way which he pointed out was more important than what other people thought. For them, seeking the truth meant more than the taunts of the world, so apparently clever.

How can we not think, in this context, of the task of a Bishop in our own time? The humility of faith, of sharing the faith of the Church of every age, will constantly be in conflict with the prevailing wisdom of those who cling to what seems certain. Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs. Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking. The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves. "Those who fear the Lord will not be timid", says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates.
[. . .]

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