23 March 2013

Holy Ghost! Here I come!

I'll be in Hammond, LA tonight and tomorrow (Palm Sunday) helping my classmate, Fr. Roberto Merced, OP, pastor of Holy Ghost.

I'll also be at Holy Ghost Easter morning.

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Caiaphas plots, God plans

5th Week of Lent (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Raising Lazarus from the dead is the last straw for the Pharisees. Since the miracle at the wedding in Cana some three years earlier, Jesus has been busy fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. By word and deed, he's revealed himself to be the long-promised Messiah, the Suffering Servant given by God to His people for their salvation. Our Lord's enemies have repeatedly challenged his claims to be the Christ, and each time he's shown them that their animosity towards him is rooted in ugly political calculation and hypocrisy and not a genuine concern for the honor of God. Despite their many public humiliations, the Pharisees calculate the risks of arresting Jesus and decide each time to let him go. He's too popular with the people. However, when reports about Lazarus reach the Pharisees, the point is tipped and they act. Worried about what their Roman masters might do to the Jewish people and nation, Caiaphas, the high priest, unwittingly prophesies, “. . .it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” This is how the Good Shepherd guards his flock. Will we stay with him or will we scatter? 

Caiaphas' plot to murder Jesus is motivated by a utilitarian, political calculation: it is better for one to suffer rather than many. It is better that Jesus die rather than the whole nation of Israel. That Jesus is truly innocent of any crime leads us to believe that Caiaphas is plotting evil. However, isn't Caiaphas' justification for murdering Jesus exactly God's plan for His people? I mean, hasn't it been God's plan all along to sacrifice one man for the salvation of the world? It would seem that Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin are doing for their people what God plans for all of creation. The Sanhedrin “passes a resolution” to execute Jesus in response to his miraculous revival of Lazarus after death. So, Jesus, in one fateful act, gives life to one man and signs his own death warrant in the doing. This is our salvation history writ small, our redemption from sin and death in one act. John notes that Caiaphas unwittingly prophesies the consequences of Jesus' death, “He did not say this on his own. . . he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation. . .but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” We have been gathered into one by the death and resurrection of the Christ. Do we remain one or do we scatter? 

Addressing the diplomatic corps assigned to the Vatican yesterday, our Holy Father, Francis, pointed to a serious disease infecting first world nations: spiritual poverty. He said, “[this poverty]. . .is what Benedict XVI, called the 'tyranny of relativism', which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. . .there is no true peace without truth!. . .” If we take refuge in our privilege, our wealth, our education, rather than under the lordship of Christ, we deny the fruit of his resurrection, and we find ourselves scattered, lost one-by-one to the wolves. The Good Shepherd gathers us to him so that we may know the Truth and so that Truth may set us free. The truth is: we are redeemed by Christ for Christ to become Christs for the whole world. We are not set free by Christ to make ourselves into little gods governed by our own passions and preferences. Caiaphas plotted to kill Jesus to save his people. God planned to sacrifice Christ to redeem the world. Both plot and plan succeeded. We come to Christ lost and remain with him free. In Christ, no man or woman is his/her own. We belong to Christ—one Lord, one people, one nation under his protection for the salvation of the world and the greater glory of God. 

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22 March 2013

No truth, no peace

The Holy Father recently met with and addressed the assembled diplomatic corps in Vatican City.  

After reaffirming the Church's unwavering commitment to the poor--as evidenced by his chosen regnal name--the Holy Father had this to say about another kind of poverty:

But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth. 

Can I get an AMEN! 

Pope Francis 1) affirms the pernicious existence of relativism; 2) refers to BXVI's now-famous homily delivered before he was elected to the Chair of Peter; 3) links true peace with Truth; and 4) undermines individualism by citing charity!

That loud BOOM! you heard last week was Richard McBrien's head exploding.

John Allen notes, "Based on Friday's speech, at least, anyone who saw his election as a repudiation of the broad philosophical and theological outlook of Benedict XVI probably has another think coming."


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You are gods

After Mass this morning at Our Lady of the Rosary, a parishioner asked me what Jesus means when he says to the mob, "Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, "You are gods"'?"

I was tempted for all of three seconds to make this allusion the focus of my homily. But then I took another sip of coffee and woke up. Explaining the context of this quote in a daily homily would've taken too long.

So, I'll try to explain it here.

First, Jesus is referring to Psalm 82.6:

5  The gods neither know nor understand,
wandering about in darkness,
and all the world’s foundations shake.
I declare: “Gods though you be,
offspring of the Most High all of you,
7  Yet like any mortal you shall die;
like any prince you shall fall.

Here God is addressing the "gods" in heaven and rebuking them for their failure to rule the earth with justice. He passes judgment on them and makes them mortal.

Now, recall the scene described in this morning's gospel passage. . .Jesus is confronted by a mob that wants to stone him for blasphemy. An unjust verdict and sentence given that he is God.  The description of the "gods" in Psalms perfectly describes the mob as well--ignorant, wandering in darkness, unjust, etc.

So, the quote--"You are gods"--is actually an accusation against the mob! But it does double-duty as a reminder that "gods" can be made mortal; thus, showing that Jesus' claim isn't as outrageous as the mob thinks it is.

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Words & Deeds Reveal the Truth

5th Week of Lent (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary

Confronted by a lynch mob and its demand that he defend his claim to be the Son of God, Jesus calmly lays out the options for those with stones in hand: “If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works. . .” Whether or not you believe me when I say that I am doing the work of my Father, believe in the works themselves, “so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Jesus recognizes here that the mob doubts his claim to be “from the Father,” so simply reasserting his claim isn't going to convince them. They've witnessed his works, or heard first hand accounts of those works, so he challenges them to accept the truth of what he has done as a first step toward coming into the larger truth of who he is. Coming to know Christ can be instantaneous or gradual; it can be a flash of recognition (cf. Paul), or a slow evolution over time. Taken together, Christ's words and deeds reveal his true identity and purpose. Can we say the same for ourselves? 

As followers of Christ, we are given a mission in the world: to spread the Good News that God freely offers His boundless mercy to all sinners through His son, Jesus Christ. Our words and deeds in the world either accomplish this mission, or they betray it. When Jesus is confronted by the lynch mob, he challenges his accusers to either believe his words or his works. It might appear that he's trying to save his own life with a desperate appeal. But what he's actually doing is trying desperately to save the eternal lives of those who threaten to kill him. Jesus knows that his hour has not yet come, so there's no real danger for him. The real danger lurks for those whose hour has come but do not yet know that he is the Son of God sent to offer them the Father's mercy for their sins. While out on mission in the world, we are constantly being challenged by one sort of mob or another. If our words and deeds do not bring them to know Christ instantly, can the memory of what we have said and done push them slowly toward Christ? Or do we give them even more reasons to believe that God holds a grudge and that His mercy has a price? If you lay claim to an inheritance from the Father through Christ, then you must—w/o hesitation or reservation—speak and act in the world as an heir to the Kingdom. We're not here to save our own lives—Christ did that for us. We're here to proclaim the Good News and to do the good works that bring sinners to eternal life. 

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21 March 2013

Francis and civil unions

Jimmy Akin unspins the media spin on F1's "support" for same-sex civil unions. . .

Now that he’s been elected pope, some are trying to spin this as evidence of him being “flexible” on the issue and open to “dialogue” on the subject and as “seeking compromise” and “reach[ing] out across the ideological spectrum”–all ostensibly being signs that he may propose the same thing as pope, presumably on a global scale. 

[Of course, "open to dialogue," "flexible on the issue," etc. just means, "The failure to abandon your principles and embrace our leftist social engineering agenda means that you are closed to dialogue and inflexible, etc."  This is a rhetorical move that plants support for marriage on the fringes of polite society.  F1 is too smart to fall for that slimy move.]

The same voices have also been contrasting this approach with the inflexible approach of Pope Benedict.

[Another slimy, perfidious rhetorical move designed to pressure F1 into cashing in on the "reformist spirit" currently possessing the Church in order to radically upend the natural law.  IOW, the message is: "Pope Francis, use the excitement behind the push for curial reform to bring about some doctrinal reform as well!  If you don't, we will portray you as a right-wing nut the way we did BXVI."
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20 March 2013

The Pope and the Devil

Prof. Robert Royal has posted a helpful article:

[. . .]

Besides, most of what we know about Francis for certain is this: a holy and intelligent man is leading the Church, who fully supports Catholic teaching – even on neuralgic points like contraception, abortion, and gay marriage. At the same time, he has been close to the poor and supports efforts to help them – but decidedly not every half-baked social “program,” let alone the wilder reaches of Marxist liberation theologies [or what passes for "peace and social justice" ideologies in the US Church].

In short, we have a pope that doesn’t fit partisan categories [precisely as it should be], but has found a way to think and act in full harmony with the Church in his Argentinean circumstances [also, precisely as it should be].

[. . .]

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Kreeft & Knox

My Mendicant Thanks to Jenny K for the Kreeft and Knox books.  

I will definitely have something to read while sitting alone for two hrs. in the confessional tonight!  (Hint, hint, New Orleans Catholics. . .)

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Pope Francis and the Dirty War

Truly, wonders never cease. . .

We have a Jesuit Pope. . .named Francis. . .from Latin America.

And I, Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP. . .am linking to the NCR and commending an article written by Fr. Tom Reese, SJ.

Next, pigs will begin to fly. Trees will sprout gold coins. And B.O. will use the word "God" when quoting the Declaration of Independence.

But none of that is especially important.  What IS important is the media's current attempt to smear our new Holy Father with false accusations that he helped the right-wing military dictatorship in Argentina during the Dirty War.

Fr. Reese parses the media disinformation and gets at the truth.

Read it carefully. You will undoubtedly hear more about this fantasy as F1's ministry as Peter begins to bear fruit.

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OP Sisters react to Habemus Papam!

The Ann Arbor Dominican sisters hear "Habemus Papam" while recording an album. . .


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No freedom w/o Truth

5th Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Years ago, I worked with recovering addicts in a rehab hospital. The vets of these programs would confront stubborn new members of the program by saying: “The truth will set you free…and sometimes really tick you off!” They knew first hand the empty promises, the false joys of slavery to sin. Not that their addictions per se were sinful, of course, but the lives they were required to invent in support their addictions were always just on the verge of total collapse. More than anything their addictions chained them to lying, to illusion, and dumped them all alone in a dark world to recycle hopelessness and despair. When they would tell the newbie in the group that the truth would set him free, they meant that his life had to change radically. When they told him that the truth would tick him off, they meant that it would REALLY tick him off. Our chosen illusions can comfort us while keeping us chained to the darkness of sin. Do we prefer the security of slavery over the frightening possibilities of freedom? Jesus says, “. . .the truth will set you free.” 

Who are Jesus' students in this lesson? Not the crowds. Not the scribes and Pharisees. But “those Jews who believed in him.” He’s teaching those who already confess his lordship, those who already know who he is and bend themselves to his word. Beyond this initial profession of faith, Jesus is telling them that there is a state of true discipleship, an enduring friendship of obedience and love that rests on a simple progression of knowledge: remain in my word—know the truth—the truth will set you free. He says, “Everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.” Each act of disobedience then, each willful failure to hear and heed the Word is a link in the chains around our necks. This is not punishment for a crime but the consequences of pride. We choose to depend on our own will rather than the will of the Father for us. Sin is surrender: to our passions, our prejudices, and our chosen illusions; giving in and giving up to our delusions of grandeur, the lie that we can be God w/o God.

When Jesus tells the believing Jews to remain in his word, to know the truth, and that this truth will set them free, what exactly is he teaching them? Benedict XVI answers in his exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis: “In the sacrament of the altar[…]the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom. Since only the truth can make us free, Christ becomes for us the food of truth[…]Jesus Christ is the Truth in person, drawing the world to himself” (SC 2). To remain in Christ’s word then is to meet him daily. To know his truth is to know him intimately as Lord. To be set free by truth is to be enslaved to Christ…daily. Benedict goes on to teach: “Jesus is the [magnet] of human freedom: without him, freedom loses its focus, for without the knowledge of truth, freedom becomes debased, alienated and reduced to empty [whim]. With him, freedom finds itself” (SC 2). There is no freedom without truth. We cannot act freely as creatures without the foundation and goal of truth. Without truth we merely act, creating illusions, building up our resistance to obedience, and preparing ourselves for the final scene of a terrible drama: slavery to our smallish passions, our unbending preferences. 

Do you prefer the security of slavery over the frightening possibilities of freedom? Does the idea that you cannot act freely without acting truthfully scare you? Christ is our freedom. He is our truth. If you remain in his word, you will truly be his disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth has already set you free. 

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19 March 2013

Women & Forgiveness

How many times have I told folks in confession that forgiveness is an act of the will and not a feeling?

4,897, 234, 003 times.  That's how many.

My good friend and Catholic Mom and former seminary classmate, Deidre Darr (Divinity Diva) reviews a book on women and forgiveness.  

Ladies, read the review.  Read the book.

Really. Do you want to be 4,897, 234, 004?

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Mind & Cosmos

My thanks to the anonymous HA reader who sent me Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel, one of my fav atheist philosophers. 

Nagel is being stretched on the rack of the Academic Inquisition b/c he's dared to question the Unholy Dogma of the materialist faith.  I get all tingly inside when the intellectual left shows its true colors. Oil up the thumbscrews, boys, we got another heretic!

A recent review of this new book from Alvin Plantinga, one of my fav theist philosophers.

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18 March 2013

Shine for the salvation of the world

5th Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Jesus makes an astonishing claim, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Not only is he the light of the world, but he is also the source of salvation from those who choose to follow after him. If you think about how the darkness of sin and death obstructs your growth in holiness, you might discover that it is unbelievably difficult to pray, fast, do good works, even to forgive and love in the total darkness of sin. Unless you are capable of generating your own spiritual light, you will fail again and again to progress along the way. Since we are—by our fallen nature—incapable of saving ourselves, we must look to a savior, someone else to bring a light to bear on our path. If Jesus is telling the truth, then he is that someone else. But is he telling the truth? The Pharisees challenge his claim. They demand two witnesses to verify his testimony. Jesus says to them, “I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.” We are left with a simple choice: we either believe the testimony of these witnesses, or we do not. Do you hope to grow in holiness? If so, follow the light shone by Christ. 

Before Christ came among us, our guiding lights were the Law and the Prophets. These two divinely inspired sources of light showed God's children a way through the muck and mire of disobedience, leading them back to righteousness through an obstacle course of ritual sacrifice, dietary restrictions, and purity codes. Running this course demonstrated their allegiance to the covenant God made with Abraham. Failure to follow the Law or obey the Prophets meant a failure to honor the covenant, a spiritual form of adultery. When Christ came among us, he announced that he had fulfilled the Law and the prophecies; he had taken upon himself all of our failures, all of our flaws, everything that causes us to trip and fall while growing toward holiness. Our purpose is not absolute moral purity or ritual perfection, our purpose is to follow Christ so closely and with such zeal that we become Christ for the world where we are. We're to be transfigured so that the glory of God and the light of Christ shine out from us, and then lead all others out of the darkness that blinds them. You can't accomplish this alone, nor can I. So, we have the communion of saints, the Church; we have the apostolic witness and the Holy Spirit. If you will grow in holiness, do so. . .but do so so that the Christ-light that shines from you shines with the whole Body of Christ for the salvation of the world. 

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17 March 2013

Go and sin no more. . .

NB. This is a new homily based on the Year C readings. I was informed yesterday that I shouldn't have preached on the readings for the Scrutinies b/c we didn't celebrate that rite at the Vigil Mass. This homily is for today's 10.30am Mass. 

5th Sunday of Lent 2013 (Year C readings)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Standing before him in the temple area is a woman accused of adultery. Standing behind her are her accusers, the scribes and Pharisees who hope to trip him up with a tricky legal question: should this woman be stoned to death according to the Law of Moses? The woman's accusers present their bear-trap case to him and then wait for his reply. What does he do? He bends down and writes in the dirt with his finger. Befuddled by this strange behavior, the woman's accusers continue to press their questions and demand answers. Finally, he straightens up and says to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, he bends down to write again in the dirt with his finger. The woman's accusers drift away, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. This is what happens when the demands of justice collide with the need for mercy; or rather, what happens when our need for justice collides with God's demand that we freely grant mercy. Justice—to be truly just—must flow from righteousness, a righteousness that no man or woman possesses. The best we can do is imitate Christ and grant mercy. 

Jesus and the adulterous woman are left alone in the temple area. Her accusers have fled b/c they know the Law as well as Jesus does. They know that their accusations against her—though true—are also incomplete. According to her accusers, the woman was “caught in the very act of committing adultery.” Where is her accomplice? The Law requires that a man caught in adultery be stoned as well. Since the woman was “caught in the act,” why is she not being accused by those who caught her? The Law requires that the witness to a capital crime throw the first stone. When Jesus challenges the accusers to carry out the death sentence, “in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.” Pouring salt in their wounded pride, Jesus publicly accuses the accusers of being sinners themselves and forces them to acknowledge their sinfulness. He knows the Law as well as they do, so he publicly humiliates them all by exposing their hypocrisy under the Law. How can they accuse this woman of violating the Law when they themselves violate the Law by accusing her as they have? Justice—to be truly just—must flow from righteousness, a righteousness that no man or woman possesses. 

Jesus shows the accusers that they are unjust by challenging them to follow the Law. They can't. Doing so would condemn them under the Law. To underscore his own accusation, Jesus writes in the dirt, following the Sabbath Law that forbids the work of writing on paper on a holy day but allows writing in the dirt. Though John doesn't tell us what Jesus is writing in the dirt, tradition tells us that he is alluding to the prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah cries out, “O Lord, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water. . .” Another translation reads, “The rebels shall be enrolled in the netherworld.” To have your name written in the dust is to be enrolled in the netherworld as a shameful rebel against God. The woman's accusers watch Jesus writing in the dirt; remember Jeremiah's righteousness cry to God; and then ask themselves: are we prepared to be consigned to the netherworld as rebels against God? “In response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.” Confronted—even subtly—by their own failures in holiness, the scribes and Pharisees simply fade away to plot another trap for the Lord. 

The story of the adulterous woman and Jesus' merciful response to her sin can be a trap for us. Has been a trap for us. When finally left alone with the woman, Jesus asks her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She answers, “No one, sir.” Jesus is the only one left to pass judgment, the only one truly qualified to condemn her for her sin. He says, instead, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” The trap for us here is to read Jesus' challenge to the accusers and this final act of mercy as a judgment against calling out sin. In other words, b/c Jesus shows the accusers to be sinful themselves and b/c he does not condemn the woman, we're to believe that no one should ever call a sin Sin. When the Pope or our bishops challenge abortion or same-sex marriage, how often do we hear the culture respond, “They shouldn't throw stones given their track record on sexual abuse”? Somehow Jesus' challenge to the righteousness of the woman's accusers has been perverted into a blanket denial that sin can be named Sin. What's missing here is Jesus final word to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” He grants mercy to the person while naming sin Sin. 

And that's the difference btw man's justice and God's mercy. Man's justice condemns both the crime and the criminal. God's mercy passes sentence on the sin and forgives the sinner. By forgiving the sinner, God does what God Is: Love. Forgiveness of sin, showing mercy to the sinner is in no way an admission that sin isn't sin. The righteous do not need mercy, therefore, only the unrighteous may receive it; that is, only those found guilty of sin require mercy in the first place. It's vital to our growth in holiness that we understand how God's mercy relieves us of the burden of sin. The weight of disobedience is crushing. Under the heavy load of sin, we cannot follow after Christ; we cannot complete our mission “to go and do likewise” if we are suffering in slavery to our disobedience. This is why the Father sent to Son to lift this burden off our backs. Christ has removed the yoke of sin and we are now free to follow him. When Jesus refuses to condemn the adulterous woman all he is doing is freeing her so that she might choose to take up his yoke and do the joyous work of witnessing to God's mercy. Adultery is still adultery. But no sin—not even adultery—can forever chain a soul in servitude when the Father's forgiveness is freely offered and freely received. 

Lent is our time to stare intently at the dirt to see if our names are written there. But the time for watching the dirt is almost over. We are rapidly approaching the empty tomb on Easter morning. Ahead of us, drawing us in, is the emptied cave where Jesus went to rest. But for our sakes, he didn't rest. Instead, he rose; he rose to the Father and sent his Holy Spirit to dwell among us, strengthening us along his Way, encouraging us in our temptation to despair for a lack of holiness. Lent is a time set aside for us to search the dirt for our names. It's that time in our lives when we set ourselves against ourselves to fast, pray, give alms; to acknowledge our total dependency on God; to give Him thanks and praise for His blessings; and to generously share those blessings. If it seems that we pay too much attention to sin during Lent, remember: God's mercy frees us; His forgiveness unburdens us. But without the confession of our sins, without acknowledging our sins, we cannot receive His mercy. No man or woman possesses the righteousness required to free themselves from sin, or to dispense others from the rot of their sins. Christ alone is able to say, “I do not condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” 

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