02 March 2013

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. . .

NB.  Preached this one at the vigil Mass this evening. I thought it bombed. . .big time. By the time I finished, I'd already decided to start over for tomorrow's Masses.  However, after Mass I got a lot of good feedback.  When I mentioned totally revising it, one of my "on-site" reviewers here in the parish said, "Nope. Don't do it. One of your best."  So, now I'm conflicted. Maybe it needs tightening up?  I dunno. . .

3rd Sunday of Lent 2013
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church/Our Lady of the Rosary

“If you do not repent, you will all perish!” We might expect to hear a warning like this from a televangelist, or read it on a sign down on Bourbon St. during Mardi Gras. That it comes from our Lord is a bit unsettling. . .but not entirely unexpected. The Jews of Jesus' day we used to hearing prophets shout warnings of impending doom and admonitions to repent lest the Divine Wrath smite them dead. It must've seemed like God's balled-up fist was always just hovering over Jerusalem ready to crush the whole sinful lot of them at any moment. Given our Lord's mission to preach the Good News of God's mercy to sinners, it's unlikely that he's shouting doomsday warnings just to scare folks into repentance. In fact, his call to repentance is an answer to an implied question. Some locals report to Jesus the details of two recent disasters—one an accident and the other a slaughter. The implied question is: if sin leads to judgment and death, why were only some of those involved in these incidents killed? Jesus answers, in effect, “You're worrying about the wrong thing. You are all going to die one day. Get right with God before it's too late!” Our capacity for worrying over the wrong things is nearly limitless; however, our time on this earth is not. Therefore, repent and bear good fruit. . .before the season ends. 

No one will ever accuse Pontus Pilate of being friendly to the people he ruled. The locals report to Jesus that Pilate slaughtered a group of Galileans at worship and mixed their blood with the blood of the ritual sacrifice. A horrific desecration. Luke is our only historical source for this incident; however, the great Jewish historian, Josephus,* tells us that a group of Samaritans were summoned to Mt. Gerizzim—their holiest site—to worship at a shrine of relics placed there by Moses himself. When the well-armed Samaritans approach the mountain through a town called Tirathaba, they find Pontus Pilate waiting for them. Battle ensues. Most of the Samaritans are killed, some flee, and some captured. Pilate orders the captives executed. Once again, Pilate desecrates a holy sacrifice with human blood. The locals want to know from Jesus, “How can God allow an unclean pagan to kill His faithful people while they offer Him worship?” Jesus' answer: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!” In other words, if you think that you will be spared death b/c you are a lesser sinner than these Galileans, you're wrong. Forget the why's and focus on what's important: repent! 

We know almost nothing at all about Pilate's slaughter of the Galileans, and we know only a little more than that about the tower collapsing at Siloam. Only Luke mentions it. We know eighteen people were killed. That's about it. Jesus uses the accident to ask the same question he asked before, “Do you think [that those killed] were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means!” Again, those killed were no more sinful than anyone else. They were killed b/c a tower fell on them. There is no “why” to this accident. Stop navel-gazing and focus on what's important, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Jesus is not saying here that the failure to repent causes death. He's saying that if you do not want to perish in the spiritual condition that they did, then repent. How did they perish? Unrepentantly. What was their spiritual condition? Unclean. Our Lord's warning is not a threat or a prediction that being unclean will causes a fatal accident, or give you cancer, or attract a serial killer with a thing for Catholics. In fact, his point is exactly the opposite. The Galileans and those eighteen people killed in the tower accident were no more sinful than anyone else. Their spiritual flaw? They were unrepentant sinners. 

As he is prone to doing, Jesus uses a parable to drive his teaching home. The owner of an orchard is upset that his fig tree hasn't produced any figs in three years. He orders his gardener to cut it down, “Why should it exhaust the soil?” The gardener—an unrepentant tree-hugger—talks the owner into giving the little tree one more year to produce. Good news for the tree; however, the gardener adds, “. . .it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.” The fig tree gets a reprieve not a pardon. This parable's connection to Jesus' call for repentance isn't made explicit, so we have to do the leg work here. Jesus asks the locals if the Galileans and the tower victims were any more sinful than any other sinner in town. The answer is no. Accidents happen; Roman governors slaughter people. Like the fig tree, we have one more season, one more week, or the rest of today to produce the good fruits of repentance; to turn ourselves around and run to God's mercy. Therefore, our focus needs to be on repentance not running after esoteric philosophical explanations for random events, or psychological analyses of a petty dictator's motives for violence. Why should our focus be on repentance and not asking why? Because random accidents can kill you. . .randomly, and sometimes petty dictators will decide that mass murder is a great cure for his social problems. In other words, because time is ebbing away and death comes for us all. Best be ready! 

Now, Paul—never one to be left out of a good discussion on repentance—adds his two cents in his first letter to the Corinthians. Recalling that their ancestors in faith suffered and died in the wilderness with Moses, and noting that many were struck down b/c God was displeased with them, he writes, “These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us. . . Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Those struck down in the wilderness with Moses are examples for us, and we read about them as warnings. Our immediate impulse here is to ask, “So, does God really strike people dead for displeasing Him?” And then we should immediately hear Jesus say, “Were they any more sinful than all the others? By no means! Repent, so that you do not die as they did.” Part of producing the good fruits of repentance is standing firm on our Rock, Christ Jesus. Paul notes that our ancestors in faith ate and drank in the wilderness “from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ.” They survived b/c God was with them always, and when they were faithful to the covenant, He blessed them abundantly. 

We begin the third week of our trek through the Lenten desert, eating and drinking from Christ, our Rock. If you have been attentive to your fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, then you know what it means to find humility, to be fully aware of your dependence on God for your life and all that you have. Think carefully and pray urgently about what your friendship with God, about your place in His holy family, and what sort of person you are called to be in the world for the His greater glory. What is preventing you from receiving in full all the gifts that He has to give you? Is it some vice? A history of unconfessed sins? A stale prayer life? Whatever it is, turn away from it and run to God's mercy. Just walk away from whatever it is that stands btw you and the perfect love of God. And most of all, kill your worry. It will never bear good fruit. Our capacity for worrying is nearly limitless; however, our time on this earth is not. Therefore, repent and bear good fruit. . .before the season ends and the Gardener comes to prune his orchard.

 *Antiquities 18, 4, 1 #86–87

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Everyday warrants a fattened calf!

NB. For a "Vintage Fr. Philip" version of this homily, check out "Wasting Love on Sinners" from 2008

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

Sinners are drawn to Jesus. Tax collectors, prostitutes, all sorts of unclean souls are pulled into his presence, seduced—if you will—by. . .what exactly? What is there about Christ that attracts those who have put themselves outside of God's good graces? You would think that sinners would run and hide when he shows up to preach. But the only creatures who cringe at his approach are the unclean spirits, the demons. The gospels report that when our Lord walks into town, a crowd gathers. Some are there in hopes of seeing a magic trick. Others out of curiosity to hear what this guy has to say. Sprinkled throughout the crowd though are men and women whose deeply seeded desire for holiness is struck like a bell when Jesus comes near. There's just something about who and what Jesus is that makes these sinners drop whatever they are doing and run to be with him. What is this “something”? Whatever it is, the Pharisees and scribes are unhappy with the fact that a rabbi is eating and drinking with sinners. When they complain, Jesus tells them a parable about a long-lost son and his welcomed return home. This prodigal son leaves his life of sinful dissipation and starts a life of grateful celebration. Can we describe our lives as “grateful celebrations”? 

The standard way of reading the Parable of the Prodigal Son goes like this. . .the son is the sinner; the father is God; and the good son is the Pharisee. When the sinner-son returns home after wasting his inheritance on wine, women, and song, his father throws a party to welcome him back. The good son-Pharisee angrily objects to the party b/c his sinner-brother hasn't earned their father's forgiveness. The father responds “My son, you are here with me always. . .But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” Here's my question: what draws the sinner-son back to his father to live his life in grateful celebration? What is it about the father that attracts his son home? The sinner-son and the father share a habit of the heart: both are prone to prodigality, dissipation. For the son, this habit is a vice; for the father, it is a virtue. The father's welcome home feast is no less extravagant, no less excessive than the son's squandering of his inheritance. Both lavishly spend, both are reckless in their indulgence. However, while son viciously spends money to sin, the father virtuously spends mercy to love. The son is drawn home to his father by a deeply seeded desire to have his ability love perfected. In his father's mercy, the son's love is made perfect. 

A sin is always an act of imperfect love. And imperfections always seek their perfection. Sinners are drawn to Jesus like magnets, pulled toward his perfect love for them. His loving presence—extravagant, abundant, indulgent, perfect—seduces sinners, reels them in. We see in him and hear from him the holiness we long for, the righteousness we were made for. His fullness shames our emptiness and so we draw close so that we might be filled. Our Lord too is a prodigal child, a son of excessive love, abundant mercy, indulgent forgiveness, and perfect hope. He spent his life for us on the Cross, an act of holy abandon, a complete surrender to death so that we might live. If we draw near to him and confess our imperfections, we too are welcomed home to the Father. Made perfect by Love Himself. Thus, there is nothing else for us to do than to spend our lives in grateful celebration, giving thanks and praise, lifting up our burdens and seeing them taken away. Long or short, dull or exciting, the life of a faithful follower of Christ is a life lived in grateful celebration. For us, if we turn to God for mercy, everyday warrants a fattened calf! 

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01 March 2013

New priory at UVA

Look!  The Dominican friars at UVA have a real priory and not just some suburban ranch-style house built in the 70's!  I bet they wear their habits outside of liturgies too. 

Good on them. . .

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Vids on the Popes After Peter

Check out a new Catholic blog:  CathWow!

The blogger is Jason Surmiller, a former student of mine from the Univ of Dallas.

Jason is making and posting a series of short vids on the Popes after Peter. . .historically informative and very timely.

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Standing on the Cornerstone

2nd Week of Lent (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Here's a sentence no servant of God ever wants to hear: “. . .the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” What's worse than living your life as an heir to eternal life only to discover that—in the end—you've been disinherited? When Jesus finishes telling the priests and elders the parable of the tenants, he quotes Ps 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” By rejecting Christ as the cornerstone of their relationship with God, the leaders of God's people reject their inheritance. Their reaction to this prophetic statement? They ain't happy. However, they are more afraid than unhappy—afraid of Jesus' popularity, so they postpone arresting him. They're not worried about losing their eternal inheritance. They're worried about losing their power and prestige among the people. When we think about the demands of following Christ, do we think first of our eternal inheritance, or do we first consider how following him might look to family, friends, neighbors? 

The parable of the tenants retells the history of the Jewish people's stormy relationship with God. We know the story all too well. It tells just like the history of the Church's relationship with God. Lots of disobedience and great moments of heroic virtue. What the parable doesn't include is an explanation for our repeated failures. We can hear greed in the tenants' justification for killing the owner's son. But greed never poisons alone. We can hear a little wrath in the tenants' desire to wound their employer. Some pride and class envy. Why do the priests and elders reject Christ? Why do we so consistently reject making Christ the cornerstone of our lives. Making Christ the cornerstone of our everyday lives means risking one of our most valuable treasures: being a respected player in whatever social game that defines us. Family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, fellow parishioners. If I make Christ my cornerstone, will I have buck trends, go against the prevailing attitudes of my peers, and risk losing real prestige for nothing more than a promise of future glory? 

Social psychologists will tell you that there is almost nothing more difficult for an individual to do than go against the crowd. The psychology of the herd is infectious; it takes the single soul into a massed spirit where deliberation and freedom are strangled for the sake of frenzy. But few of us will ever be caught up in that sort of mob. The mobs we belong to are much more subtle and more dangerous: the workplace, the family reunion, movie night with friends, faculty meetings, events where those whose opinions of us we honor gather to socialize and strengthen the bonds of the group. When the opportunity arises, do we choose Christ as our cornerstone; or do we choose our standing in the group? When family, friends, co-workers express their support for the culture of death, do you stand on Christ; or do you back down to save face? When your peers start advocate undermining marriage and the family; or expressing racist opinions; or defaming the Church, do you stand on Christ, or back down? If Christ is to be your cornerstone, then everything you are must find its integrity and strength in Christ, regardless of the consequences. As baptized prophets of the Church, you are sent out to live the truth of the gospel. Even if and especially when it means your prestige must take a beating. When the time comes “remember the marvelous works of the Lord,” most especially the marvelous work of your salvation achieved on the altar of the Cross. 

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28 February 2013

Thank You, Papa Benny!

Goodbye, Holy Father! Mille grazie for your ministry to the people of God! 

Rest well. . .you deserve it!


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The Master writes to the Holy Father

Most Holy Father,

I ask you to accept the immense gratitude of the Order of Preachers for the great generosity and beautiful simplicity with which you have exercised your ministry, ‘a humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard’. The Brothers, Nuns, Apostolic Sisters, Lay Dominicans and the entire Dominican Family join me in assuring you of our communion in prayer and thanksgiving. 

On several occasions during your ministry, in the course of your teaching, you evoked some great figures of holiness that God by His grace has given to the Order of Preachers. It was for us a strong invitation to draw anew and constantly from the source of the charism of St. Dominic. 

When you did me the honor of receiving me, you insisted that the Order should deploy its rich tradition of "study and worship" and take its place in the "new evangelization” to which you have invited the Church in continuity with the Second Vatican Council. This reminder, I believe, provides us with the horizon in view of which we are preparing to celebrate, in 2016, the eighth centenary of the confirmation of the Order of Preachers. 

I ask you to assist us with your prayers, that the Lord may grant us the grace always to seeks always to serve the Church and its unity, "totally committed to the evangelization of the Word of God” as it was expressed by Pope Honorius III. 

fr Bruno Cadoré, OP Master of the Order

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Chiacchiera Vaticano

I pay no attention whatsoever to the administrative intrigues of the Vatican. The internal politics of Church governance bores me to near stupidity. However, I ran across an interesting bit in The Vatican Diaries over at Chiesa:

There remains empty, in fact, the position of secretary of the congregation for religious, a dicastery that has yet to draw the conclusions of the thorny and contested apostolic visitation to the American sisters. 

After evaluating the hypothesis of a stars-and-stripes bishop, most recently it seems that thought has been given to the promotion of a religious from the United States, in all probability a Dominican.

This American Dominican bishop is most likely fra. Joseph Augustine Di Noia, OP, who is currently serving in a curia as Vice President of Ecclesia Dei, a Pontifical Commission that oversees the implementation of BXVI's liturgical initiative, Summorum Pontificum.

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27 February 2013

Leading the Ecclesial Parade

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

Is there any endeavor more damning of our species' basest instincts for deception, selfishness, and pride than the pursuit of political office? Yes, there is. The pursuit of ecclesiastical office. This is not to say that every secular politician and sacred office holder is a lying, selfish, blowhard. Many who serve us in civil gov't and in the Church do so out of a deeply held sense of duty to the common good and perform their duties honestly, selflessly, and with all humility. Look no further than Pope Benedict XVI for an example of ecclesial leadership rooted in sacrificial service to the Gospel and God's people. For an example of how ecclesial leadership can go wrong, look no further than the sons of Mama Zebedee, James and John. When put upon to elevate these two to high office in his kingdom, Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” With no idea what this question means; no clue about the implications of what it means to be a leader in the Church, Mama Zebedee's precious boys say, “We can.” Deceitfulness, selfishness, and pride will help you obtain power in the world and the Church. But power alone never makes a leader. 

You have heard it said that leadership is the art of finding a parade and then marching in front of it. Mama Zebedee and her boys look at Jesus and the other disciples, and they see a parade. Her petition to Jesus to give her sons places of honor in his kingdom is her attempt to get in front of the Ecclesial Parade. James and John inadvertently expose their unworthiness for high office by readily accepting the idea that they can “drink the chalice” that Jesus himself must drink. Do these two understand that “drinking the chalice” is Jesus' way of saying “dying a gruesome death for the good of all”? I doubt it. And even if they do understand what it means, Jesus makes it clear that the honors they seek are not his to give. He also makes it clear that there is no reward for servant-sacrifice. To serve is its own reward; therefore, Christian leadership flows from no other source than a willingness to give one's life as a ransom for many. In other words, a Christian leader will be Christ for his/her family, friends, parish, and nation: “. . .whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” Just as Christ himself was for us. 

Even if you live under a cypress tree out in the bayou, you cannot escape the media coverage of the upcoming papal conclave. Cast as a secular political drama with “frontrunners,” “dark horse candidates,” and the nauseating chorus of chattering-heads speculating on which millennial-old truths the next pope should change, the conclave is a rare chance for Catholics to watch our leaders carefully. While the magpies on CNN squawk about the shape, size, color, nationality, and ideological preferences of the men who could be pope, Catholics should ask themselves one question about each cardinal: can he, will he drink the chalice that Jesus drank. . .that is, will he serve the Church in truth through sacrifice? Not his ambition, his ideology, his fellow countrymen, or his Vatican buddies. Anyone who dares to lead the Church must be eager to risk being nailed to the Cross, and not just a metaphorical cross but a real cross. . .even if that cross looks like a bullet or a prison cell or a suicide bomber. The Chair of Peter comes with great power. But power alone never makes a leader, especially a leader of Christ's people. “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

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26 February 2013

The Church has failed Pope Benedict (?)

An excerpt from The Anchoress' "The Pope's Benedict Option" at First Things"

[Pope Benedict] says he is tired, and we can’t doubt it. An introvert’s energy is quickly depleted by social interaction, be it celebratory, diplomatic, or grimly administrative. Spare hours of solitude were unlikely to have brought the pope to full re-charge if passed (as they probably were) in contemplation of the Church’s failure in its primary duty to Christ: demonstrating the gospel to a world sorely in need.

The failure is heard in the shrieks of pain, ignorance, and hatred directed at the Church throughout the chambers of mainstream and social media; it is seen in the faithful priests and laypeople who read one awful headline after another and continue on, but with increasingly slumped shoulders; it stands before the pope’s very eyes, in the form of priests and religious who have served idols and theologies formed within themselves, and in the bishops and cardinals who have handed in their resignations, or who should bow out and won’t.

Particularly damning is Scalia's observation that there are priests and religious who have spent their consecrated lives in service to idols and syncretistic theologies.  

Well worth your time to read the whole thing.

UPDATE:  The Holy Dominican Nuns of Summit, NJ point out in the combox that the article as a whole is about BXVI's decision to enter monastic life after leaving the papacy.  It was not my intention to suggest that The Anchoress' article was principally about how various elements in the Church have failed the holy father.  Mea culpa! 

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25 February 2013

Dig two graves. . .

2nd Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

History is often written from the carnage caused by vengeance. The tit-for-tat, back and forth violence of revenge erupts from its poisoned cell in the human heart and does its dirty work with the grim self-satisfaction of an executioner. Justified by nothing more than self-righteous anger and a deeply felt wound to our pride, the dark spirit of revenge assures us that the violence we do is not only a good thing but a needful thing. And even the best among us will listen to this reassurance, if only to have our outrage quieted for a time. Our Lord understands the tumults of the human heart, most especially its need for justice. But he urges us to exercise mercy instead. If his admonition to be merciful as the Father is merciful proves inadequate to the task of quelling a need for revenge, then perhaps a more pragmatic promise will do the job: “Forgive and you will be forgiven. . .the measure with which you measure [your forgiveness] will in return be measured out to you.” If for no other reason than spiritual self-preservation: measure your forgiveness in five-gallon buckets. 

Unless you are a living saint, you will likely smile at the sentiments of the 19th century German poet, Heinrich Heine, “We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.” (Confession: I smiled.) Heine's point seems to be that justice should precede mercy, mercy being a grace best bestowed upon the dead. A faithful follower of Christ will respond to Heine, “When you plan vengeance, start by digging two graves.” Even if you survive a violent outburst of revenge, your soul will be mortally wounded. And its death is now only a matter of neglect. Of course, most of us will never act violently on a need for revenge. Being somewhat cowardly, our preferred modes of vengeance are slander, gossip, detraction, calumny, and petty acts of passive-aggressive mischief. Over time these accumulate like a slow poison, and we commit spiritual suicide. All the virtues we enjoy as followers of Christ are killed off one by one: joy, gratitude, peace, and finally, love. Calling us to the perfection that only he can provide, Christ shows us the way to bandage our hurts and find healing: “Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you.” The greatest grace we can receive is the mercy we give to those who wound us. 

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24 February 2013

Signs of the (New York) Times

Now. . .imagine this NYT reporter in a religious habit or a clerical collar and you've got a member of the
Spirit of Vatican Two Peace Bong Drum Circle!  :-)


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BREAKING: there are sinners in the Vatican!

from Catholic Culture:

Reports of a homosexual network of corruption at the Vatican have grabbed the headlines this week. The first thing to remember is that the Church has never been without her own internal power struggles, as high-ranking officials (with or without holiness) seek to gain traction for themselves or the policies they deem important [. . .]

When I heard about this story breaking in some Italian rag, I thought:  "Yea. And?" 

Now, I know that not all Catholics are as world-weary/jaded as I am when it comes to the foibles of human nature. I've been accused of being "too much with St. Augustine" on this issue.

But seriously, the Enemy would be downright stupid not to attack the Vatican.  And we would be dangerously naive to think that the men who serve the Church in the Vatican are free from the kinds of temptations and sins that the rest of us suffer with.  

I remember reading something about the Sons of Zebedee and their Mama jockeying with Jesus for position in the Kingdom. 

I remember reading something about two saints--Peter and Paul--slamming one another over the question of who gets to be saved and how. 

I remember reading something about all of Jesus' best friends freaking out when he got arrested and running like rabbits to hide.

I remember reading something about Peter the Rock denying Christ three times in one night.

And so on. . .

The moral genius of Catholicism is that we can fail over and over again to live up to the ideals of the gospel. . .and it never occurs to us to lower those standards so that our failures earn us cheap blue ribbons for good conduct. We repent, receive God's mercy, and get on with doing what we promised to do. 

To quote a comment I made in the combox below:  "No rational person expects any human institution to be angelic."

That the Church still stands is a testament to the Holy Spirit's protection!

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