06 April 2013

Christ: our only rule and measure

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

What do we know about Thomas? He's one of the Twelve disciples chosen by Christ to serve as apostles. He's called Didymus b/c he has a twin brother. And we know that he is absent on the night that the Risen Lord appears to his apostles. Oh, and we know that despite having lived and died more than 2,000 years ago, he's a thoroughly modern man. What makes him modern? When told by his friends that Jesus—dead and buried for three days—appeared to them, Thomas proclaims a truly modern standard of truth: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks. . .I will not believe.” Modern philosophers and scientists would congratulate Thomas for demanding such a sensible and obviously right-thinking empirical standard for assenting to the truth of a claim. Jesus, on the other hand, isn't impressed. Appearing among his apostles a week later, Jesus allows Thomas to test his empirical standard. Now, Thomas believes. Jesus, far from praising his student's rigid need for proof, says, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” No one here has seen Jesus as Thomas did. Do we believe? And what difference does it make if we do or do not believe? 

It might seem strange for a Catholic priest to ask a church-full of Christians attending a Sunday Mass whether or not they believe in the Risen Lord. Why would any of us be here if we didn't believe? Let me suggest that there is a difference btw “believing that the Lord is risen” and “believing in the Risen Lord.” Simply believing that the Lord is risen is matter of assent, saying, “Yes, I believe that” when asked. Believing in the Risen Lord is also a matter of assent—saying, “Yes, I believe that”—but saying Yes to the Risen Lord entails a commitment far more intimate and demanding that merely saying that he is risen. When prompting Thomas to explore his wounds, Jesus says to him, “do not be unbelieving, but believe.” How does Thomas respond? He doesn't say, “I retract my earlier statement of disbelief and now assent to the claim that you are risen.” No. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Believing in the Risen Lord commits us to submitting ourselves to the rule and measure of Christ as the source and summit of all that we are. A church-full of Christians can easily assent to the fact that the Lord is risen w/o ever committing themselves to being ruled by the Risen Lord. Doubt about the mechanics of the resurrection is the smallest obstacle we face when it comes to bending the knee to Christ our King. 

How does Thomas overcome his disbelief? Through Christ's mercy. It is b/c he is merciful that Jesus allows Thomas to satisfy his doubts on his own terms. We know that this is an act of mercy b/c Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Lord could've very easily left Thomas stewing in his doubt, left him outside the company of the blessed, and w/o the benefits of genuine belief. Instead, Jesus shows him mercy. Thomas is charged with the sin of disbelief, found guilty, and then pardoned; pardoned for no other reason than for the sake of the Gospel. The Gospel needs Thomas. And Peter and John and James and you and me. So, it is vital that we are not unbelieving but believing, that we are committed—heart, body, mind—to living under the rule and measure of Christ; thinking every thought, speaking every word, doing every deed for the sake of Christ and the spreading of his Good News. What is the Good News of Christ? That God freely offers His abundant mercy to all sinners. With repentance, we receive all that He generosity provides through the once for all sacrifice of His Christ on the cross. His mercy is our freedom from sin and our license to tell the whole world that Christ is Lord and God! 

Not too long after this meeting btw Jesus and Thomas, the apostles find themselves consumed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and set upon the world to preach the Good News and accomplish mighty deeds in Christ's name. Luke tells us in Acts that “many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. . .the people esteemed them. . .more than ever. . .great numbers of men and women, were added to them.” What were these signs and wonders? What exactly were the apostles doing and saying to bring so many to Christ? We know from Acts that the apostles were preaching God's mercy; baptizing those who repented; healing the sick and injured; freeing souls from unclean spirits; teaching the Word and breaking bread in memoriam. They were establishing the Lord's household among those who answered Christ's call to follow him. Why did they do these things? So that all may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief they may have life in his name. When we come to believe in the Risen Lord, when we come to trust in his name, we too accomplish mighty deeds, preach his Good News, and strengthen his household for all who answer his call to repentance and holiness. 

Do you believe? And what difference does it make if you do or do not believe? Do you call on his name in faith? And what difference does it make if you do or do not? After appearing to Thomas and some of the other disciples, Jesus reveals himself again at the Sea of Tiberias. To this group of disciples, Jesus not only reveals himself as the Risen Lord, he also reveals to them why it is necessary to listen to and obey his commands. The disciples are fishing and not having any luck. Jesus—disguised—tells the Beloved Disciple to cast his net over the right side of the boat. He obeys. The catch is so large that they can barely haul it in. At that moment, the B.D. recognizes Jesus and says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Note that Jesus is unrecognizable to the disciples until the B.D. listens to and obeys his commands. The miraculous haul of fish is a sign for the B.D., and he instantly sees his Risen Lord. What difference does belief make? Belief in Christ makes it possible for us to see his words and deeds speaking and working in our lives. Belief in Christ gives us the courage and strength necessary to repeat his words and deeds, to put his words and deeds to work in building and fortifying his royal household. 

Belief in the Risen Lord means submitting ourselves to Christ as our only rule and measure. The disciples do not recognize the Lord on the road to Emmaus. Nor when he visits them on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Nor will Thomas believe that he is risen until he appears in the flesh for inspection. Doubt, worry, fear, pride—all of these cloud the disciples' eyes and plug up their ears. Btw Easter and Pentecost the disciples find it difficult to recognize the Risen Lord b/c they have yet to make Christ the rule and measure of their hearts and minds. Here we are btw Easter morning and Pentecost. Does Christ rule our lives? Do we measure our holiness against his? What does anxiety measure? What does fear demand of its subjects? The Risen Lord gives us one last command before he ascends to the Father, “Peace be with you.” Be at peace. If our hearts and minds are torn apart by dread, or frightened by the unknown, or troubled by our past, then we cannot rest in the sure knowledge that Christ died for us b/c he loves us. And if we cannot rest knowing this truth, then we cannot come to believe in the Risen Lord. Be at peace. . .and come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name. 

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F1 makes his first curial appointment

Our Holy Father has made his first curial appointment. . .

Father José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM will serve as secretary to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, meaning the Spanish Franciscan will serve as the point-man for the Vatican's relations with religious orders. 

It is a very good sign that the Holy Father's first curial appt. was made to this Congregation. It signals (I hope) that he is looking closely at the Church's religious orders with an eye toward reform and renewal--REAL reform and renewal. . .not a repeat of the disastrous secularizing upheaval following VC2.

I am looking forward to seeing who he appoints to serve as his Papal Household Theologian.  Traditionally, this position is been held by a Dominican friar since St. Dominic was the first OP to hold it. Let's see if F1 is going to uphold this tradition, or continue to surprise us by appointing. . .say. . .a JESUIT! 

Also, let's pray that our Holy Father appoints a Dominican to serve as his Papal Household Preacher. It just makes sense.  By papal decree, this office is reserved for Capuchins.  But. . .F1 is just full of surprises these days.

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Coffee Bowl Browsing: the Return!

I frequently hear from HA readers that Coffee Cup Browsing is their favorite feature of this blog. Of late, CCB has been woefully absent. Why? Well, it takes a lot of time to find and arrange the links. While I was in Rome (2008-2011), I had a lot more free time to browse the web, sometimes posting as many as 30 times in a week. These days I do well to get a daily homily posted in time for Mass!  

But. . .things are about to change, I hope. I have a job interview this coming Thursday. If I get the job, I won't be tied to a parish schedule. I will still be busy, but the busyness won't be dictated by confession/Mass times and the need to be available 24/7.

So, in celebration of this Spring Time Change. . .I give you:  Coffee Cup Browsing!

A Black Robed Master has decreed that The Pill be made available over the counter.  

Gun control fizzle. . .b/c Americans aren't stupid. We recognize a power-grab when we see one.

Don't tell my father about this group. . .his head will implode.

Um, you bet that a university that employs a "Provost for Diversity and Inclusion" is not going to be friendly to the Church.

Rich socialists hate wealth. . .well, they hate your wealth anyway.

Reliable source on the Scandals, or muckraking anti-Catholic bigots?

Piers Morgan, Zeitgeist Torquemada. . .

What does the US Army think that the KKK, the Catholic Church, and Hamas have in common? 
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05 April 2013

The dark joy of gossip

OY! The Holy Father is hitting close to home with this one:

“I don’t know why, but there is a dark joy in gossiping. Sometimes we begin by saying nice things about another, but then we slip into gossip, making the object of our chatter merchandise to be bartered. Let us ask forgiveness because when we do this to a friend, we do it to Jesus, because Jesus is in this friend.”

I learned the Dark Art of Gossiping in grad school. Note: I'd been gossiping long before grad school, but being a grad student in a humanities department made it necessary for me to perfect the art and use it with deadly cunning. That's not an excuse, by the way. It's just the reality. No one survives grad school w/o learning how to gossip strategically. When your whole career depends entirely on the mercurial judgments of not-always-right-in-the-head professors, you learn to sniff out the useful tid-bits and nurture them dearly.

So, why is gossip a problem for Christians? Most of the time gossip arises out of a lack of charity, a desire to hurt someone, or see them fail. Charity is the virtue of willing the Good for another, so there's almost no chance that gossip will result in anything approaching love. 

How to get rid of the nasty habit? Replace it with a good habit. Bite your tongue--mine is deeply scarred. Count to ten before snapping at any Gossip Bait. . .

Suggestions? I'm still working on ridding myself of several Dark Arts I acquired while in grad school. Gossiping is not the worst of the lot. . .

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3 Revelations of Christ

Octave of Easter (Fri)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

What at first reads like a Bad Fishing Story with a happy ending is really a lesson from the Risen Lord on how to go about making disciples. Like most of the dramatic scenes in the gospels, there's depth in the deceptively mundane details of the story. A group of disciples are out fishing and they're not having much luck. Jesus is watching them from the shore. The disciples do not yet recognize their Lord, so they just continue their fruitless efforts to snag some fish. After a while, Jesus says to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” They obey. And the load was so large that they “were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.” At that moment, the Beloved Disciple recognizes Jesus and says to Peter: “It is the Lord!” Peter jumps into the water and goes to Jesus. The other disciples recognize Jesus when they approach the fire. Notice: the B.D. recognizes Jesus after the miracle occurs. Peter recognizes Jesus after the B.D. identifies him. And the other disciples recognize Jesus after they see him cooking the fish and bread on a fire. This gospel story opens with a simple declaration: “Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.” How Jesus reveals himself to his disciples—and how they recognize him—tells us how to go about making disciples for the gospel. 

First, Jesus reveals himself to the B.D. through his command to cast the net on the right side of the boat. The Greek used indicates that Jesus is telling his disciples to cast their nets on the “graced side” in order to “receive their portion.” The idea here is that when we put our trust in God's grace, we receive an abundant portion from Him. The B.D.'s eyes are opened to seeing truly b/c he obeys-listens in faith. He then “sees” that the stranger is Christ. Jesus then uses the B.D. to reveal himself to Peter. After “seeing” Jesus, the B.D. says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Peter hears this bit of good news, he girds himself tightly, and casts himself into the sea. . .much like the B.D. casting his net for that huge haul of fish, Peter is casting himself into the world to haul in a huge load of disciples. When one of us “sees” the Lord, we are compelled to testify to his presence. Jesus reveals himself to the B.D. and Peter individually, using sight and sound, word and deed. He reveals himself to the other disciples communally. They come to see him when they join the others over a meal. IOW, when they come together to enjoy God's gifts, they see the stranger as the Christ. 

That stranger on the shore is revealed to be the Risen Lord when one disciple obeys-listens to him with faith. He's revealed to be the Risen Lord to another when the first disciple bears witness to his presence. And all the others come to know him when they gather together and recall the last time they huddled over a fire to share fish and bread. The key to making disciples for the Good News is to be—ourselves—living revelations of Christ in the world. Obey-listen to all that he has taught us. Proclaim his presence among us. Jump into the world and haul in any and all who would know the Lord as Savior. And then come together to be fed at the table of the Lord. At the center of this disciple-making pattern is the willingness/eagerness of those of us who know the Christ to be ourselves living revelations of his presence. It's not enough to point the way. Or draw a map of the way. Or just stand out of the way. How we choose to live—moment to moment—must be in and of itself a revelation, an unveiling of who and what the Risen Lord is for us. For us, he is the Savior. To us, he is our Brother. With us, is the grace of God set upon the world to make known the Father's freely given mercy to sinners. 

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Catholic university rejects Catholic student group for being Catholic

“To embrace the diversity and yet endorse a group based on faith exclusivity is a challenge that cannot be reconciled at this time,” Weitz wrote in closing. “It is a decision about social justice, equity, and the desire of the University to create and maintain an environment in which none are excluded.” 

". . .in which none are excluded. . ." except those who do not agree with us.

Told ya.

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When "tolerance" trumps conscience

Expect more of this sort of Tolerance Persecution in the very near future:

Two gay seniors who said they felt alienated by the [GWU] Newman Center's controversial priest will launch a campaign this week to force him off campus.

At least a dozen students, including seniors Damian Legacy and Blake Bergen, say they have left the Newman Center in the last several years because Father Greg Shaffer’s strong anti-gay and anti-abortion views are too polarizing. Shaffer, a Roman Catholic priest, has spent five years preaching to GW students.

The line of attack will be something like this: RC dogma is divisive, polarizing, and alienating to those who must suffer under the Church's disapproving gaze. Since we are a tolerant community that welcomes diversity, the Church must be silenced so that we can all feel comfortable with who we choose to be. No one should be allowed to think, speak, or act in any way that makes anyone uncomfortable. . .except, of course, it's OK for us to make RC's uncomfortable b/c they disagree with us. . .b/c they're all bigots, or something.

And pay special attention to this bit of the story:

And while Legacy said he is now more comfortable with both his sexuality and his religion, and has since become an ordained priest in the Old Catholic Church in October, he said he doesn’t want anyone else seeking Shaffer’s counseling to feel that same torment.

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Why aren't the media covering an abortionist's murder trial?

Once again, bloggers are left to do the reporting that "journalists" are supposed to be doing. But when the Story doesn't fit the Pro-Abortion Narrative. . .all's quiet on the media front.

[. . .]

Case in point: It is no secret that most in the mainstream press embrace abortion rights and take every opportunity to cast pro-life advocates in a bad light—as when they use a politician’s insensitive or mangled words to smear the entire movement. In contrast, the late-term abortionist, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, currently on trial for murder in Philadelphia, is being treated as an obscurity.

For those who may not know, Gosnell is charged with running a veritable abattoir at which clinic personnel allegedly severed the spines of viable babies and killed an abortion patient. Evidence has revealed that fetal body parts were stored at his clinic in jars as macabre trophies. All of this, of course, also grossly violated the laws of the state of Pennsylvania, as well as any reasonable baseline of medical ethics.

The Gosnell story should be huge. But the media has generally looked the other way. As of this writing, the major network nightly news programs have not even covered the trial, and most reporting outside of the Philadelphia area has been sporadic, placed on inside pages, and written blandly—the kind of low-voltage reportage easily lost in the constant white noise of media overload. On March 19, for example, the New York Times reported the start of the trial on page A-17, and has not covered the graphic testimony or provocative allegations of racism by the defense (Gosnell is African-American.)

[. . .]

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04 April 2013

Leave no time for trouble

Octave of Easter (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Cleopas and the other disciple tell the others about meeting a stranger on the way to Emmaus, about listening to his teaching, and then discovering—in the breaking of the bread—that the stranger was with Risen Lord! While they are all talking about the incident, without warning or fanfare, Jesus just appears among them, and says, “Peace be with you.” Luke tells us that the disciples are “startled and terrified” b/c they think that they are “seeing a ghost.” Startled and terrified? I bet! And I bet that they were a bit embarrassed too. Why? B/c despite Jesus' constant reminders that he would always be with them, the disciples were in a slow panic, verging on despair, and ready to give up. Jesus knows all this, so he asks, almost casually, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” A braver soul might have answered, “Why are we troubled?! You were executed and buried; and we heard that your body was missing from your grave. Then we hear that you might not be dead, and now, you're a ghost! Oh, and we're fugitives b/c we followed you. That's why we're troubled.” So, why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your heart? 

No one here is a fugitive from the law for following Christ. Not yet anyway. No one here is in any danger of being executed, or jailed for claiming an inheritance from the Father. Not yet anyway. No one here is a slave to sin, or subject to death, or bereft of our Father's love. If you were a slave to sin, or subject to death, or bereft of our Father's love, then you would indeed have something to be troubled about. If you're being troubled by the passing things of this world. . .well, you're being troubled by the passing things of this world. We live in this world; we're not of it. Can the temporary nature of these things calm your trouble? Does knowing that worldly trouble fades with time help you at all? Our Lord says over and again, “Peace be with you.” Paul, Peter, John, James, they all say, “Peace be with you.” Think of this as an order, a commandment: Be At Peace! Notice what Jesus does when he sees his disciples' fear. He tells them to touch his wounds. He eats with them. He shows them that all he has taught them about his nature and mission is true; it has all been fulfilled—Moses, the prophets, all of scripture, it has all been fulfilled. If trouble arises then, it arises b/c our trust in God's promises has become shaky, a little rusty maybe. 

This is not to say that real world problems result from our failure to have faith. That's not how God works. Faith is our response to God's offer of mercy. When we believe, when we trust in Him, and receive His mercy, no real world problem can trouble us. Sure, we'll have problems. But they won't trouble us. Why? B/c we trust that all that our Lord has taught us has been fulfilled. B/c we know that we are not slaves to sin, subject to death, or bereft of the Father's love. B/c we know that we are residents in this world but not citizens of it; subject to the laws of men but acquitted by the blood of Christ. The disciples in Jerusalem are troubled b/c they do not yet trust that the Old Covenant has been fulfilled in the New; so, their problems appear to them to be not only made by men but also solvable by men. They can't find a solution, thus the troubling questions and doubts. Christ appears in his glorified body to show them that he has conquered trouble, he has defeated anxiety, doubt, and fear. Christ is with us this evening to show us—again—that worry, confusion, dread, all of these and more have been defeated. Leave no time for trouble. We have work to do. Repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, must be preached in Christ's name to all the nations. You are his witnesses. You are his preachers. So, make no time for trouble. 

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"I liked the fact that they wore habits."

A decent piece on Dominican vocations in the Province of Ireland and the Eastern Province USA from the (usually execrable) NYT:

CORK, Ireland — The Rev. Gerard Dunne has worked for 12 years essentially as a human-resources recruiter — albeit one in a habit cinched with a dangling wooden rosary — for the ancient order of the Dominican friars. Once, his medieval robes may have deterred some. But today he is convinced that the garment is his greatest selling point for enlisting new priests.

Other religious orders largely stopped wearing their traditional garb in recent years, as they tried to attract new followers in secularizing societies. But the friars deliberately went on wearing the robes and promoting the spiritual benefits of shared prayer and a communal lifestyle — with a little help, too, from a chatty blog.

“We made a conscious decision a few years ago to wear the habit because we had no vocations and we were in a bad way,” said Father Dunne, 46, who estimates that he has traveled nearly a half-million miles along Ireland’s country lanes and highways in search of recruits. “If we didn’t present ourselves in an authentic manner, who would join us? And that meant going back to the fundamentals.”

Very often you will hear comments from friars from a Certain Generation that the current allure of religious life is really all about bad economic times and not a return to traditional Dominican life. . .IOW, increased numbers do not correlate with a desire for a stronger religious identity (habit, community, common prayer, etc.).

In tough economic times, the stability of community may also be appealing, and the resurgence for the Dominicans has coincided with Ireland’s economic crisis. But Father Dunne and others said most potential candidates were already prospering in existing jobs in professional fields, and came to the order because of a yearning for greater spirituality.

[. . .]

Matthew Farrell, 38, a former bartender from County Offaly and a novice, said he had sampled other orders, like the Carmelites. “I’ve been searching a long time for a vocation,” he said. “I wanted to get married or wanted to do something else. I tried to visualize myself as a priest.”

But in the end, he said, the Dominicans won out. “The Dominicans have a lot of enthusiasm and energy,” he said, “and I liked the fact that they wore habits."

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03 April 2013

Btw Easter and Pentecost

Octave of Easter (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Between Easter and Pentecost, what held Jesus' disciples together? Most of the disciples scattered like scalded cats when Jesus was arrested in the garden. Only John and Mary saw him on the cross. Joseph of Arimathea buried him. Until Mary Magdalene and the other Mary ran back from his empty tomb to announce his resurrection, we see hide nor hair of any of the other disciples. We know from Acts that after Pentecost those who had chosen to remain in his Word and received the Spirit eventually formed a community and began to preach openly. But what held them together for the 50 days btw the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? Fifty days. That's a long time for a frightened group of hunted people to remain loyal to an executed leader, especially when that leader was executed at the word of their family, friends, and neighbors. Two of Jesus' disciples—on their way out of Jerusalem—give us a clue. Luke tells us that these two, depressed and despairing, “were conversing about all the things that had occurred. . . [and] while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them. . .” And he did so repeatedly for the next 50 days. 

While walking to Emmaus, Cleopas and another disciple find themselves in the company of a stranger who seems to know nothing about what has happened in Jerusalem over the past few days. They fill him in. Jesus the Nazarene, “a prophet mighty in deed and word” was handed over to the Romans by the chief priests, and crucified. Why are these two so downcast? They answer, “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel. . .” The two tell the stranger that two women of their group discovered Jesus' empty tomb three days after his death. But no one had seem him there when they went to investigate. Then the stranger berates their lack of faith and asks an extraordinary question, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Who is this guy that he would know anything about the Christ and what is or is not necessary for his entrance into glory? Who is he to berate Christ's own disciples for the foolishness of their slow hearts? Before Cleopas and the other disciple can even form the questions, the stranger shows them how Christ fulfilled all the promises that God made through Moses and the prophets. How did the disciples stay together btw Easter and Pentecost? Christ never left them! 

We can certainly understand that the disciples would be a little downcast, knowing that Christ has been crucified and buried. They had reports that he had risen, and they had seen the empty tomb. But they were expecting something more dramatic, more spectacular from their Messiah. They held within their hearts and minds his enduring love and words of wisdom, but was that enough to keep them going until the coming of the Holy Spirit? Apparently not. B/c Christ appears to them repeatedly before his ascends to the Father. He leaves Cleopas and the other disciple when they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Or rather, he leaves them the breaking of the bread so that they will recognize him. We too know what happened in Jerusalem. And we can retell the story as often as we need to. But along the way, we'll be tempted to despair. When that temptation arises, we know where we can find the presence of Christ—in the breaking of the bread, right here at the Eucharist, giving thanks and praise for his sacrifice as we prepare ourselves for our own sacrifices for his name's sake. What keeps us together btw the first Pentecost and Christ's coming again? We know what happened in Jerusalem; we know that Christ fulfilled the promises God made to Moses and the prophets; and we know that he is with us always in the breaking of the bread. 

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01 April 2013

Silver cannot save you

Octave of Easter (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Matthew gives us two gospel scenes this evening. Both describe fear. Both describe the nature of truth-telling. And both show us the importance of faithful testimony. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary discover the Lord's empty tomb on Easter morning. “Fearful yet overjoyed” they run back to the disciples to report the good news. The soldiers guarding the now-empty tomb are also fearful. They run back into the city to the chief priests and report the bad news. The two Mary's are “overjoyed” that the Lord is no longer in his grave. The guards are very worried, yet they report “all that had happened.” On their way to report their good news, the Mary's encounter the resurrected Lord. And he says to them, “Do not be afraid.” While the guards are bribed by the chief priests and the elders to lie about what happened to Jesus' body, a story, that Matthew tells us “has circulated among the Jews to the present day.” When we bear witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, our joy must always overcome our fear; otherwise, we will likely take silver to lie for the sake of staying out of trouble. 

In Luke's version of the discovery scene, two angels greet the women and say to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you. . .” So, we can imagine both the fear and joy the two Mary's experience upon encountering Jesus. On the one hand, their Lord is missing. On the other, he is risen. And now, here he stands with them, resurrected but not yet ascended. “Do not be afraid” seems to be an understated request! Until you remember what he said to you. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. My yoke is easy, my burden light. I am with you always until the end of the age. Follow me. What is there for us to fear? Whom should we fear? There is nothing and no one to fear, nothing and no one who can silence the witness of the Church, or intimidate us into telling a story for silver. When it comes to our faithful witness to the resurrection of Christ, the Church has but one voice and one word: “Alleluia!” He is risen. He is risen indeed. Sure, there's plenty about which we could be afraid—street violence, crime, secular persecution, mockery, economic disaster, etc. But fearing these will not save us. However, finding and living in the joy of the resurrection will save us. Such joy will bring us to meet Christ along our way. 

 The guards took the chief priests' silver and told a lie. The Mary's took the word of their Lord and told the truth. Relieved of their fear, the women were left with nothing but their joy. Relieved of their integrity, the guards were left with nothing but their silver. And what are we left with? Two stories. One tells us that the Christ is risen from the tomb. The other tells us that his body was stolen by his followers. One of these stories is false. One of these stories is a paid-for lie told by cowards to give political cover to those who falsely accused Christ and caused his execution. And one of these stories—told again and again—is the founding story of a 2,000 year old faith tradition that has constantly and consistently preached the Good News of God's freely given mercy to sinners. When you bear witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, your joy must always overcome your fear, your greed, your pride; otherwise, you will likely take silver to tell a lie. You might avoid trouble for the moment. But how much more trouble will come when Christ comes again and asks, “Have you been my faithful servant?” Silver in a bag cannot save you. But the wood of the cross most certainly can. 

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31 March 2013

The tomb is empty!

NB. When I first preached this homily at the Univ of Dallas chapel in 2006, it was something of an experiment for me. Would the very traditional, very conservative U.D. community respond well to this type of preaching?  They did!  So, I thought I'd try it out on a regular parish. It worked quite well.

Easter Sunday 2013
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Holy Ghost, Hammond, LA

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Are you here this morning, Church? [Yes] Royal Priests! [Yes] People of God! [Yes] Holy Nation! [Yes] Pilgrim Church! [Yes] Sons and Daughters of the Most High! [Yes], Brothers and Sisters [Yes], then you know what has happened! Christ Jesus the Lord is risen from the tomb! [Amen] He was sold in betrayal by a friend for the price of a murdered slave! He was denied by His best friends when He needed them most! He was falsely accused of blasphemy by His own people, found guilty on perjured testimony, and given to Pilate for judgment! He was bartered for a murderer with a riotous mob and given to Roman soldiers to be scourged! He was crowned with thorns, robed in purple, mocked and spat upon, and hailed as the King of the Jews! And, finally, in the place of Skulls, He was nailed hands and feet to the Cross to die forsaken! But you know what has happened! Christ Jesus the Lord is risen from the tomb! The stone is rolled away. His burial cloth thrown to the ground. The tomb is empty. 

You know what has happened! But do you know what it means? The disciples, seeing the rolled-away stone, the empty tomb and the burial cloth did not yet understand. And it is no simple matter to say “yes” when asked: do you believe in 2013 that a man who hung on a cross, who was dead and buried for three days, has somehow sprung to live and walked away from his grave? How do you say “yes” to that absurdity? How does anyone in their right mind say to “yes” to that!? I say, it is precisely b/c you are in your Right Mind, your righteous mind, that you say YES to the Rolled Away Stone [Yes], that you say YES to the Empty Tomb [Yes], and that you say AMEN to what you know has happened: Christ Jesus the Lord is risen from the dead! [Amen] 

We are not here this morning to celebrate a pagan regeneration myth. Jesus was not raised from the tomb b/c a god of a myth must rise from the dead so the flowers and grains of the Earth might rise in spring. No. We are not here this morning to celebrate the defeat of our subconscious’ death wish. Jesus was not raised from the tomb because our neuroses need fuel for another year. No. We are not here this morning to celebrate the triumph of an archetypal Hero over an archetypal Death. Jesus was not raised from the tomb because we need a Jungian happy-ending to our quest. No. We are not here this morning to celebrate the triumph of empowered self-esteem over the oppressive, patriarchal structures of organized religion. No. Jesus was not raised from the tomb because our pet-ideologies would be empty without some revolutionary symbol of victory. No. 

We are here this morning to celebrate the triumph of New Life over Death, Creation over Chaos, the Goodness of Being over the Evil of Nothingness, the triumph of Freedom over Sin. The tomb is empty because God raised His murdered Son from an ignoble death to New Life. The tomb is empty because the living do not live in the grave! The living have no need of burial clothes! The living say YES to the Father [Yes] and Amen to a glorious life lived in the sure faith of the Resurrection! [Amen] 

It is easy to say YES and AMEN on Easter Sunday.  The account of the Empty Tomb is still fresh in our hearts and minds. The courage of Mary Magdala’s witness to the cowardly disciples still stirs in us. But let’s be honest: the long 50 day march to Pentecost will see our fervor fade, our energy wane, and the alleluia’s of this Easter morning will droop with these lilies. We will find ourselves before long in the Upper Room cowering with the remnant of Jesus’ once mighty band, wondering what idiocy possessed us to witness to the ridiculous notion that a dead man rose to life and starting popping up all over the city and chatting with people. We hope for the coming of the Holy Spirit to put us back in our right mind, but we have fifty days of Easter to live faithfully. How? 

 If Palm Sunday is about welcoming the soon-to-be tortured and executed Lord into our lives and Good Friday is about witnessing His suffering for our sakes and Easter Sunday is about celebrating the New Life of the Empty Tomb, then our fifty days to the coming of the Holy Spirit needs to be about gratitude, about giving thanks. We have immediate access to the abundant blessings of the Father through gratitude. Gratitude does two things for us spiritually: first, gratitude is a confession that everything we are and everything we have comes from the Father—we are completely dependent on Him; and second, when we gratefully accept the gifts we are given by God, we become willing beneficiaries of His abundant goodness. 

We deny ourselves the benefits of the Resurrection by living lives of entitlement (I am deserving w/o costs!), by living lives of victimization (My problems are someone’s fault!), by living lives of denial (That’s not me!), and by living our lives wallowing in hurt (I will never forgive!). Do not deny yourselves the benefits of the Resurrection. 

Practice Easter Gratitude instead! Pray daily to the Father, our Abundant Provider and generous Lord: In You I live and move and have my being. Everything I am and everything I have is Your blessing. This day I offer it all to Your service. Thank you, Lord, for this season of my life, for the gifts You have given me, for those I love and who love me in return. Thank You, Lord, for Your creation, for Your revelation in scripture, for our salvation in Christ Jesus, for the holiness I await in the coming of the Holy Spirit, and for the Church that will rise from the tongues of fire. Make gratitude my constant prayer, Father, so that I may live as a Living Blessing for others. Pray for these in name of our Easter Lord, Jesus Christ! 

The tomb is empty, brothers and sisters! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Are you here this morning, Church? [Yes] Royal Priests! [Yes] People of God! [Yes] Holy Nation! [Yes] Pilgrim Church! [Yes] Sons and Daughters of the Most High! [Yes], Brothers and Sisters [Yes], then you know what has happened! Christ Jesus the Lord is risen from the tomb! [Amen]

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