19 January 2013

One Way: follow Christ

1st Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

If I were solemnly process to the back of the church and shout, “Y'all follow me!” and then proceed out the door onto Harrison toward City Park, I'd be a little disappointed if I were turn around and discover that I was walking all by myself. I'd be disappointed but not all that surprised. If I were tell you that we were going to visit the Stations of the Cross this morning, shouted “Follow me!” and then started to process to the First Station, I would expect to see most of you right behind me, ready to pray. The only difference btw these two scenarios is that I tell you where we would going in the second and what we would be doing. That bit of information fills in a lot of blanks and makes it a whole lot easier for you to comply. That's not to say you wouldn't wonder why we were visiting the Stations during Ordinary Time. Processing around inside a Church is something Catholics do on occasion. But just walking around outside behind a priest in Mass vestments for no apparent reason? That's just weird. Notice: when Jesus shouts “Follow me!” to Levi, Levi doesn't bat an eye. He gets up and follows. So do the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the adulterers, and thieves. When Jesus says “Follow me,” those who know their sin get up and follow him. 

What's interesting to me about this command to follow is that it would appear to be entirely arbitrary. I mean, why do these sinners need to follow Jesus—literally, walk behind him—in order to have their sins forgiven? There are many instances in the Gospels when Jesus forgives the sins of people who just happen to bump into him, or he finds them sitting around on the street. They don't follow him; in fact, some of them run away after being forgiven and probably never see him again, much less take up their crosses to become disciples. And even some of those who are forgiven and then follow him end up dropping out when it looks like Jesus is getting weird or the Way behind him gets difficult. So, do we need to follow Jesus in order to get our sins forgiven? If your only goal is to be relieved of your sins, then following Jesus—that is, taking up your cross to become his disciple—is unnecessary. Your sins are forgiven. Always have been. However, our goal, our vow goes well beyond just being free from sin. Our goal, our vow is spiritual perfection: to be perfect as the Father is perfect. We are forgiven. Now, how do receive that forgiveness and live lives freed by mercy? In other words, how do we follow Christ? 

Being free of sin is not the same thing as following Christ. We might say that being free of sin is a necessary condition for following Christ not a sufficient one. To follow Christ, to become a student in his school of charity, requires that we get behind him and pattern our lives on his life of sacrificial love and service. The sacraments of the Church prepare us for this sort of life; strengthen us; and keep us fed along the way. And, if we're smart about it, we use the sacraments themselves as a pattern for daily living. We pray always. We make a habit of giving God thanks for His gifts. We forgive those who sin against us. We show the world the joy that comes with discipleship. We live in communion with one another, calling on the Holy Spirit to anoint us and give us strength. We intercede and sacrifice, offering prayer for those who need it. We give what we have b/c all that we have was first given to us by God. Following Christ starts with receiving God's mercy. Where do you go from there? Doesn't matter. You're following Christ. You know how that journey ends. All the stuff in-between is an adventure in growing in holiness. He came to call sinners to righteousness—all of us—so that we might find the Way: the way back to God, the way forward to perfection. 

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18 January 2013

Mass Oops!

I celebrated the Mass this morning, but Deacon John preached.

Since Friday is Fr. Mike's day off, I also have the evening Mass. . .where I always preach.

Today, however, one of the other friars in the house was scheduled to celebrate the evening Mass.

Or so I thought.

Thinking that I'd better make sure that this friar--a relatively addition to the community--had remembered that he had the evening Mass, I strolled over to the church only to discover that I'd made a mistake.  

I had the evening Mass. . .and no homily prepared.  So. . .I had to wing it.

This is my longish excuse for not having a homily posted today.

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17 January 2013

Email Gremlins

Gremlins have managed to gnaw their way into the Yahoo email system, and I am prevented from replying to emails.

If I owe you an email response. . .you know who you are. . .then bear with me as I await Yahoo's Gremlin Extermination Team to complete their work.

OK.  It's some sort of Firefox 18 and Yahoo techno-tangle.  Yahoo works fine with I.E. 

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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Coffee Cup Browsing (nel pomeriggio)

Existing CT and federal law didn't prevent the Newtown massacre. Neither will B.O.'s impotent, grandstanding executive orders.

Speaking of asking the question: what gets left out?  "Journalism didn't just die, it went to work for the enemy."

Are gun-grabbers racists?  Hmmm. . .starting to look that way. . .

Fascinating post explaining why the Free Exercise (of Religion) Clause is more complicated in practice than we thought.

And another excellent piece on VC2's Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae.

Today's date is actually January 17, 1712.  I love conspiracy theories.

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16 January 2013

Religious Freedom Proclamation: what gets left out?

Much is being made today of B.O.'s proclamation on religious freedom.  As many have already noted, this proclamation comes at a time when the President is doing everything in his power to stifle real religious freedom by replacing it with an anemic "freedom to worship."

B.O. quotes Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. . .or rather, he quotes selected portions of the statute.  Read the entire statute and it will become apparent to you within the first three sentences why B.O. doesn't quote more than he does.

As anyone who's engaged in any sort of textual interpretation knows, the ellipses tell most of the story.  In fact, ellipses beg the reader to ask the question:  what's left out?

For example, here's the first paragraph of B.O.'s proclamation:

Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose. Today, we celebrate one of our Nation’s first laws to protect that right — the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Written by Thomas Jefferson and guided through the Virginia legislature by James Madison, the Statute affirmed that “Almighty God hath created the mind free” and “all men shall be free to profess … their opinions in matters of religion.” Years later, our Founders looked to the Statute as a model when they enshrined the principle of religious liberty in the Bill of Rights.

First, note that "religious liberty" has mysteriously, inexplicably become "freedom to worship." Then, note the ellipses. What gets left out?

Here's what gets left out:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Apparently, an Ivy League education and the vaulted heights of the Presidency can deprive one of one's sense of irony.

The Curt Jester notes the irony as well.

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Grasped and healed

1st Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Mark tells us a deceptively simple story about Jesus healing Simon's mother-in-law. I don't mean to say here that Mark is attempting to deceive us with the story, only that the simplicity of the story itself might lead us to overlook the fullest possible meaning of what's going on in the brief exchange btw Jesus and the feverish woman. Buried in the ordinary language of the story is an extraordinary indication of Christ's ultimate purpose. Yes, he's among us to heal. He causes the woman's physical illness to leave her. And yes, he's among us to lift us up. He takes her by the hand and lifts her up from her sick-bed. But “leaving” and “lifting up” are commonplace English verbs used to hint at not-so-commonplace events. The Greek word we translate as “raised up” is ēgeiren. The same word used in several places in the NT to describe Jesus' resurrection from the dead. The Greek word we translate as “left” is aphēken, expired or died. The same word used to say that Jesus' died on the cross. Mark's simple story of the woman's healing could be translated: “Jesus approached, grasped her hand, and resurrected her. Then the fever died.” The purpose of the Christ among us is to bring about the death of death and the resurrection of the body into eternal life. 

In the presence of the Word made flesh, sin and death have no power. The Word was with God at the beginning. God spoke the Word over the void to create everything that is, and through the Word everything that is remains in being. When he say that the Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we mean that he is—embodies, makes real, walks among us—as the fullness of life, of living, the fullness of all existing things. That we get sick, injured, and die is not the natural state of man; that is, from the beginning, we are not created to fall apart and expire. Death is not part of man's original nature. Death entered creation through sin, through disobedience; and dying is a process we begin at birth, a path we must travel in a fallen world. However, in the light of Christ, who is Life, that path does not end in death—not our death anyway. The path ends in the death of death and our resurrection into life eternal. If we live with Christ now, we live with him and in him forever, following behind him in sacrificial love to the Cross, the tomb, and on to the Father's feast in heaven. That's Good News! But it's only part of the Good News. 

If the deceptively simple story of Jesus healing Simon's mother-in-law reveals a profound truth about the death of death and the resurrection of the body, then it also reveals another profound truth, a another part of the Good News. The disciples tell the Lord about the fevered woman; then, Mark writes, “[Jesus] approached [her], [and] grasped her hand. . .” I hope you really heard that. Christ, who is Life, went to the sick woman, and he grasped her hand. She did not come to him. She did not hold out her hand. She did not beg for healing. Christ went to her. Christ took her hand. He raises her up, and kills her fever. Along our path of dying and death, it is God Himself who comes to us; God Himself who makes the first move; God Himself who reaches out for our hand. All we need do is move toward Him in turn; reach back and grasp His hand. And in grasping His hand, rise and be healed and then give testimony to our healing. Simon's mother-in-law testifies to her recovery by immediately setting about serving her guests. Is there a better way to witness to the power of Life than serving the One who gives you life and died to give you life eternal? 

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15 January 2013

Classes begin

Spring semester starts today at Notre Dame Seminary!

I'm teaching Introduction to the New Testament and History of Modern Philosophy

Please offer a quick prayer for the Church's seminarians.  They have a lot of work to do before getting ordained. 

Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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14 January 2013

Fishing: it's disgusting

1st Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Patience. That's what most people would say if you asked them what virtue must every great fisherman must possess. Patience is also useful in hunting and shopping (the indoor version of hunting). Whether you are fishing with a hook or a net, the virtue of patience makes it possible for you to survive one disappointment after another. It also allows you to feel perfectly justified trying again and again: uh, nothing this time. . .oh well, the day is young, let's try it one more time. Having a small cache of patience myself—reserved for driving in NOLA—I find fishing, hunting, shopping to be tedious and pointless. I agree with Dave Barry, who says, “Fishing is boring, unless you catch an actual fish, and then it is disgusting.” Yeah. All slime and gills and eyeballs. A wonderful day by the lake ruined by guts, blood, and the smell of dead fish. So, when Jesus promises to make his followers into “fishers of men,” I want to ask, “Um, Lord. . .do you think you could make me a teacher of men instead, or maybe a spiritual director, something like that?” Fishing, hunting, shopping for souls can be boring, disappointing, even disgusting work. But. . .it's what we all have vowed to do on this trip to holiness. 

When Jesus calls Andrew, James, John, and Simon to join him to become “fishers of men,” they have no idea what he's getting them into. Since fishing is both boring and disgusting, they must've figured that anything would be better than spending a day hauling fish out of the sea. Of course, it would be flippant to dismiss their acceptance of Jesus' invitation simply b/c fishing might be boring and disgusting. What if Jesus sees something in these men that he needs for his mission? What if he sees patience, determination, a willingness to stick with a job until it's done? And what if, when Jesus calls them, these men recognize in Jesus a man who needs—truly needs—these particular gifts? When God calls us to serve Him by serving His people with our gifts, that's what happens: He sees in us a gift that needs to be put to work, and we see in His work a job that needs doing. Jesus turns “fishing” into a metaphor for preaching, teaching, healing, blessing, consoling, feeding—in general, ministering to those who need to see and hear the presence of God, actually feel in the person of His disciples a loving spirit, someone who genuinely expects something extraordinary to happen for no other reason than that God promises it will. 

Andrew, James, John, and Simon don't know it when Jesus walks by but he's been calling them to discipleship since the moment of their conception. That the Son of God actually walks by and uses his voice to say, “Come, follow me” is a privilege beyond measure. That these men are graced so is no reason for us to feel slighted in the least. Sure, they experience an undeniable call, a vocation so unambiguous that it cannot be mistaken for anything else. Our individual calls may be slightly less dramatic and a bit more ambiguous but they no less urgent, no more deniable for being so. Each one of us is called from the moment of our conception to put our individual gifts to work for the glory of the Kingdom. There is no denying this. Each one of us has vowed before the whole Church to be “fishers of souls.” And each one of us renews that vow when we bless ourselves with holy water and approach the altar for communion. What else can we doing here this morning but tapping into the Eucharist in order to bring our imperfections closer to the perfection of Christ? The Letter to the Hebrews reads, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways. . .in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son. . .” In this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, this morning here at St. Dominic's, the Son speaks to us, “Come, follow me.” Follow him. And the work that needs doing can begin. 

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13 January 2013

A Vicar Rants: The Baptismal Rite

I vaguely remember a scene in the 80's movie, Amadeus, when Mozart auditions one of his pieces for the Emperor.

When he finishes playing the piece, Mozart turns to the Emperor for his reaction.  The Emperor sputters something like: "It's got too many notes."  

The Rite of Baptism has too many parts:  too many symbols, too many options, too many "little rites on the side." 

It's too wordy.  Lots of language like this:  "I now do X to demonstrate Y."  The blessing of the water is ridiculously wordy. . .it goes on and on and on and on and on. . .

You have to ask the parents if they really, really want their kid baptized. . .twice.

Too many accoutrements--water, oil, garments, candles, etc.

And like most of the post-VC2 sacramental texts (the Rite of Reconciliation, e.g.) it's stuffed with additional readings and another list of intercessions and three or four additional blessings. 

Mom gets a blessing.  Dad gets a blessing. Then both of them together get a blessing. And then everyone present gets a blessing. 

We do the Apostles' Creed in question form. There are three options for this.

But the really, really, really annoying thing about the new Rite is the rubrics.  You need a doctorate in canon law to decipher and interpret the instructions for completing this rite.  

Someone, somewhere. . .PLEASE. . .pare this monster down.

OK.  Now I feel better.

Carry on. . .

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