27 April 2013

Will that be enough. . .?

4th Week of Easter (S) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

It's a bit unnerving for me to wake up this morning and read in the gospel: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” I'm thinking: oh Lord, what I have done now?! What have I said or done to make Jesus think that I don't know him? I'm pretty sure that that list would be too long and too embarrassing to read aloud in public. I'd like to say that the “Philip” here isn't me. But he is me. What's worse: he's also all of you. Jesus' rather pointed question to Philip is a response to a request from Philip, a request any one of us could make: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Would it? No, it wouldn't. Jesus knows this and so does Philip. And likely, we all know this too. How do we know that showing us the Father won't be enough for us? Well, being shown the Father has never been enough, has it? What is the Old Testament but the 5,000+ yr history of God showing Himself to His children and still we don't know Him? God gives it one more try in Christ Jesus. See him, know the Father. Great! Now, where do we go to see Jesus? 

Where do we go to see Jesus?! Have you been a Christian for so long a time and you still do not know Christ? The better question is: where can a follower of Christ go and not see Jesus? He sends us out into the whole world to preach the Good News. He send us out to heal the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, free the oppressed, and forgive the sinner. He sends us out to bring in the stranger, the grieving, the poor, the meek. He send us out to plant the seeds of his word and deeds in every sort of human soil. We are sent out to overpower unclean spirits; to lift up those who are pushed down; to defend and nurture the least among us; to bear witness in body and soul to the sanctity of all life; and to make sure that there is no living sinner in the world who has not heard of the Father's freely granted pardon. Where do we go to see Jesus? “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. . .whoever believes in me will do the works that I do.” Do you believe in Christ? Trust in him? Then do the works that he did so that your works may reveal the Father working in you. If you want to know the Father, then you must be Christ for others. Go do his works through faith, then look in a mirror. 

Will that be enough? No, it won't. The disciples travel with Jesus for three years. Day in and day out, they eat, sleep, walk, and talk with the Lord in person, sitting at his feet for personal instruction. And still they do not know the Father. What are they missing? They have yet to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. What they are missing is the fullness of the Spirit, the Love that the Father and the Son share between them. Their knowledge is not yet on fire; what they know has not yet been kindled and set ablaze by the One Who will remain with them (us) until the end. Doing the works that Christ does, and doing these works in faith, shows the world both the Father and His Holy Spirit, both the One Who Creates and the One Who blesses His creation. To know God fully, to know Him perfectly, we must go to see Him face-to-face, which means we must live now—right now—as if we were seeing His face in every man, woman, and child we meet; heart, mind, body, soul we must turn toward Him and see, hear, think, and feel only Him, and through faith in Him accomplish everything that He has sent us out to do. Will that be enough? No, it won't. In the end, He reaches for us; pulls us up, and welcomes us to His family. Our job is make sure He finds us doing what His Son sent us out to do. 
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26 April 2013

Way, Truth, Life

4th Week of Easter (F) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Jesus has just finished washing his disciples' feet at the Last Supper. He's given them a new commandment, and told them that he must leave them. Simon Peter wants to know where the Lord is going and why he can't come with him. Jesus responds by telling Peter that he will deny his teacher three times before the dawn. Seeing his disciples heartbroken and feeling abandoned, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” What else is a broken heart but a soul that's lost its will to believe, its desire to trust? We're not witnessing a gaggle of teenaged girls moon over the latest pop star; or a bunch of men mourning the loss of a drinking buddy. The disciples are genuinely anxious about Jesus' departure. This group of hardworking men—men who've followed him all over the country—are devastated to learn that their teacher is leaving them behind. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says, “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” If we don't know where he's going, how will we know how to get there? 

It's Thomas, the one who doubted the testimony of his fellow disciples, who asks the question we all want to ask, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Is it not enough that he's told us that he will be back for us? Is it not enough that he's gone ahead to prepare our places in his Father's house? No. Not nearly enough. We want to know where Jesus is going, and we want to know how to get there by ourselves. Why do we think we need this information? He's leaving us. He's just walking away from us and everything we've done together. How do we know he's coming back? Are we supposed to just believe that he's coming back? With no backup plan? No fail-safe in case things don't work out as planned? Jesus says, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” That's the backup plan: have faith. That's the fail-safe: trust in him. In other words, when it comes to believing in the One the Father sent to free us from sin and death, there is no backup plan. There is faith, and there is worry; trust and anxiety. If your heart is troubled, you have chosen worry over faith, anxiety over trust. And the Way before you is muddled, twisted by the smog of pride and the need to control. Do not LET your heart be troubled. LET your heart be free.

We don't need to worry about where Jesus is going. We already know. He's going to the cross. And then on to sit at the Father's right hand. We don't need to worry about how we will find him. He tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” To get to the Father, we must follow the way, the truth, and the life. The way of Christ, the truth of Christ, and the life of Christ; becoming, along that Way, Christs ourselves. This means we are all heading toward the cross as well. And while on this trek to our deaths, we will doubt the testimony of our fellow disciples; we will deny Christ before the dawn and after; we will resist the urge to trust God's love for us; and we will beg the Lord not to leave us even though we know he must. (We can't follow behind a leader who will not move ahead of us.) While we stumble, fall, shove, and get back up to walk along the Way, we should hear Jesus say to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Yes, it's a choice we make to let our hearts be troubled or not. Choose faith and trust in God. Choose to put your faith and trust in Christ. We know all that we need to know to make it to heaven. But it is not knowledge that saves us. Faith brings us close to God. And faith in His Christ brings us closer still.

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24 April 2013

Disobeying God the Father

NB. It's storming in Nawlins'. I'm feeling puny. The Spirit tried His best to rouse me. . .alas, no luck. Here's a Roman homily from 2010.

4th Week of Easter (W) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Jesus puts to rest any question about the source and summit of our salvation, any question about the only means available for achieving a face-to-face audience with God the Father: “Whoever believes in me…whoever sees me…everyone who believes in me…anyone who hears my words…whoever rejects me…does not accept my words…I did not speak on my own…the Father who sent me commanded me…what I say, I say as the Father told me.” There can be no question that Jesus himself is the exclusive path to our redemption; he is the only salvific show in town. If we want to spend a little more time unpacking this teaching, we can note the passion with which Jesus teaches. John writes that Jesus “cried out and said.” We can note that Jesus explicitly says that he and the Father are one; that believing in him is the same as believing in the Father; that as the Word sent by the Father, accepting or rejecting his words determines one's place in the light or one's condemnation to the darkness. We can note that Jesus says he is teaching nothing more or less than what his Father has told him to teach; and we can note that he makes this startling claim: “I know that [the Father's] commandment is eternal life.” If the Father's commandment is eternal life, why must we believe in Jesus? Isn't it enough that God has commanded us to live with Him in eternity? It would seem that God's commandment can be thwarted by our refusal to believe. 

For the sake of argument, let's assume that we want to refuse to obey God's commandment of eternal life. How would we go about about doing this? Jesus points out two ways to be disobedient: 1). we can hear his words, accept them, but fail to observe them, or 2). we can hear his words and reject them. When we hear his word but fail to live them, we are not condemned because, as Jesus says, “. . .I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.” When we hear his words and reject them, we condemn ourselves according to his word; that is, his words stand as our judge and we are condemned to darkness because the Father, Jesus, and his words are all one. Lest we think that we can hear his words, accept them, fail to obey, and then escape the consequences, we must remember that God commands us to enjoy eternal life. Jesus says that he will not judge our disobedience. Why? Because our refusal to live out the words we have heard and accepted is itself a judgment, and we remain in darkness despite having glimpsed the light. There is nothing more he needs to do than to allow us to live in the eternal night we have chosen for ourselves. 

Why would anyone, having heard and accepted his words and knowing that God has commanded us to live eternal lives, why would anyone see the light of Christ and choose the darkness of disobedience? Well, there's the false sense of freedom that comes with making such a choice. There's the inordinate love of the transient things of this world. There's the desire to indulge our destructive passions—anger, revenge, hatred, greed. And then there's the obstinate refusal to believe, the persistence of voluntary doubt—willful disbelief. Like the child who closes her eyes and believes she is invisible because she cannot see, we choose darkness because we believe it hides us, protects us from judgment, nurtures our liberty. In fact, we are never more in danger than when we walk after dark. Jesus speaks these words of hope: “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” Though we may foolishly choose eternal night, we do not have to remain there. His coming among us is the dawn of salvation, our eternal healing from all the wounds that would drive us into hiding. All we need do is accept the medicine of his words and follow behind him, doing right now all that he did back then. 
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Brownskirt Tolerance in Europe

"The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love."  — Fr. R├ęginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP

Witness the fruits of Leftist Tolerance in Europe:

Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Andre-Joseph Leonard is attacked by femi-Nazis* during a conference.  Note well the tolerance and love of intellectual diversity radiating from their contorted faces. You can just feel how much they want everyone to be free to just live their lives as they wish.

* Yes, femi-Nazis. Hitler's Brownshirts used exactly this sort of public intimidation to silence opposition voices.  He would send his bully-boys into pubs, theaters, universities, even private homes to start brawls so that the opposition would be forced to relent.  Worked well for him. . .for a while, anyway.

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23 April 2013

No Church, No Jesus. . .

Yet another disappointment for the Hermeneutic of Rupture Pushers:

From Pope Francis' homily for the Feast of St George:  "And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: 'Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy.' And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful. . .Think of this Mother Church that grows, grows with new children to whom She gives the identity of the faith, because you cannot believe in Jesus without the Church. Jesus Himself says in the Gospel: 'But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.' If we are not 'sheep of Jesus,' faith does not come to us. It is a rosewater faith, a faith without substance. . .

So, prog Catholics, can we finally stop all that nonsense about obeying Jesus instead of the Church; or, believing in Jesus but not the Church; or, following Jesus but leading the Church?

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a poem: Ararat


By Mark Doty
Wrapped in gold foil, in the search
and shouting of Easter Sunday,
it was the ball of the princess,
it was Pharoah’s body
sleeping in its golden case.
At the foot of the picket fence,
in grass lank with the morning rain,
it was a Sunday school prize,
silver for second place, gold
for the triumphant little dome
of Ararat, and my sister
took me by the hand and led me
out onto the wide, wet lawn
and showed me to bend into the thick nests
of grass, into the darkest green.
Later I had to give it back,
in exchange for a prize,
though I would rather have kept the egg.
What might have coiled inside it?
Crocuses tight on their clock-springs,
a bird who’d sing himself into an angel
in the highest reaches of the garden,
the morning’s flaming arrow?
Any small thing can save you.
Because the golden egg gleamed
in my basket once, though my childhood
became an immense sheet of darkening water
I was Noah, and I was his ark,
and there were two of every animal inside me.

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22 April 2013

Don't let a crisis lead you through the wrong gate

NB. I'll say it before anyone else does: this homily is a borderline rant. Blame it on the afternoon espresso.

4th Week of Easter (M) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

These anxious times offer us a huge selection of false gods to worship, a wide variety of robber-shepherds to follow. It seems that each new horror, each new disaster gives us another solution, another path to take out of our troubles. More legislation. Better enforcement. More surveillance. Better intelligence. More money. Better prevention. All of which, of course, means more state power if not better government. Rarely do we hear anyone with any authority—politicians, media-types, academics—suggest that the moral fiber of our culture is frayed and coming undone. Rarely do we hear anyone publicly suggest that the Newtown school massacre, or the Aurora theater shootings, or the Boston Marathon bombing, or the slaughterhouse of Philadelphia abortionist, Dr. Gosnell, no one ever seems connect these horrible events to a dark reality: as a culture, as a nation, as a people, we no longer look to God first as our moral compass; we no longer live believe that His love for us matters. When disaster strikes, our Betters turn to any and every solution imaginable: the law, medicine, psychology, education; they run through any and every gate opened to them. . .but one: the gate the Shepherd himself opens for us all. 

 Maybe it's our inherited pragmatic nature as Americans that sends us running after material solutions to spiritual problems. Or our need for quick and easy results that gets us rushing around looking for silver bullet answers. Or maybe we're just lazy and want someone else, anyone else to solve these problems for us. There's a pantheon of foreign gods waiting to grant our wishes, to lay out for us a whole range of fast and furious solutions. The problem with these solutions is that none of them really addresses the underlying cause of the problem. Why did those two brothers bomb the Boston Marathon? Your answer seems to depend on what remedy you want to impose to prevent future bombings? If you want more gov't control, your answer is: they bombed the marathon b/c law enforcement budgets are being cut. If you want to tar and feather all Muslims, your answer is: they bombed the marathon b/c Islam preaches hatred of non-Muslims. How about this answer? Evil is real, and its purpose is to annihilate life. The Shepherd holds open a gate for us to walk through, and that gate is called “Abundant Life.” Walking through any other gate held open by any other shepherd is robbery. It seems sometimes that our secular shepherds have led us through another gate entirely. 

If this is true—that we've been led through a gate other than the one marked “Abundant Life”—then, as followers of the One Shepherd, Jesus Christ, we need to stop bleating along behind these false shepherds and return to our Master for instruction. He walks ahead of us, and we follow him, because we recognize his voice. I wonder, do we? Or do we look to our secular leaders for spiritual instruction? Do we open our ears when they start calling us to surrender our principles, abandon our traditions, and kneel before their political agendas? If Jesus the Shepherd called his sheep to him, would we recognize his voice among the thousands that pretend to instruct us? The politicians, the academics, the pundits, the talking-heads on TV, the lobbyists, the partisan operatives, from among all those, would be hear Christ say, “Hey! Over here! Here's the gate to abundant life?” If you hear a voice preaching forgiveness, mercy, love, repentance, and obedience to God's word, that's his voice. If you hear a voice demanding vengeance, retaliation, bloodthirsty violence, and more and more secular control of our lives, that's not his voice. That's someone else's voice. The voice of a Robber and a Thief. Turn to the gate marked “Abundant Life,” and live this life abundantly in the love and mercy of Christ. 

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21 April 2013

The voice of the Shepherd

NB. Deacons preaching this weekend. . .so, here's a homily from 2011:

4th Sunday of Easter (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

While in the studium—the Dominican version of seminary—the student brothers were often told that agricultural metaphors for the Church weren't all that “helpful.” For example, using images such as harvesting grain, planting seeds, plowing fields, pruning trees, etc. to talk about complex theological ideas like redemption, justice, etc. is virtually meaningless in our postmodern age. Our fussy, urbane professors were particularly hard on the sheep/shepherd metaphors in the gospels. They really got wound up about Jesus describing his followers as sheep. Sheep are dirty, stupid, and prone to being killed unless well-guarded. And it didn't help matters at all that those who guard the Lord's sheep—the shepherds, you know, the bishops—were exclusively male and celibate! By the time our enlightened profs were finished foaming at the mouth against the image of the Church as a bunch of filthy, ignorant animals led by an all-male cadre of celibate shepherds, we poor seminarians were quaking in our habits, silently vowing to never-ever speak about or even think about the Church in terms of the sheep/shepherd metaphor! Of course, one or two of us were farm boys so we knew one thing about sheep that our profs didn't: Sheep don't follow shepherds. No one leads a flock of sheep. Sheep are driven, herded by a skillful shepherd with a big stick and a pack of feisty dogs. Now that's an image of the Church that Catholics can understand! So, what are we to make of Jesus saying, “. . .[the shepherd] walks ahead of [his sheep], and [they] follow him, because they recognize his voice”? 

Well, by nature, metaphors are always imperfect, so we don't want to spend too much time dissecting the parallels between Christians and sheep, or between bishops and shepherds. Jesus' point seems to be that those who have chosen to follow him will know his voice when he speaks and obey his word b/c he speaks with a familiar authority. Jesus emphasizes his point by noting that those who love him “will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” In other words, Christians do not hear, cannot hear in the voice of a false teacher, a false shepherd that familiar ring of authority that proclaims the authentic faith, the Real Deal of Gospel Truth. We could play with the sheep metaphor a bit and say that the voice of a false teacher, a false shepherd always sounds like a wolf growling with hunger even when it looks, smells, and acts like a lamb. Oh sure, the occasional individual sheep—the lapsed or lukewarm Christian—may be fooled, seduced by the hypnotic thrill of the wolf's promises, but the flock as a whole is never fooled, never taken in by a stranger's voice. Together, as one flock, we remember the Chief Shepherd's voice; we remember him saying, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. . .I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” There is no other gate to the Father's eternal pasture, no other Shepherd for His faithful flock. Christ Jesus alone brings us to a more abundant life!

As faithful sheep, we should ask: how do we come to recognize the authoritative voice of our Shepherd? In his Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke gives us a clue. Peter stands with the Eleven and proclaims to the crowd, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Luke tells us that when those in the crowd heard this truth spoken, “they were cut to the heart. . .” Cut to the heart! Peter utters a simple sentence, twenty-one common words strung together, a declarative sentence that rings out over those gathered, seizes their attention with absolute clarity, and instantly convicts their hearts in the truth: the man Jesus, the one whom they crucified, is the Lord and the Christ long-promised by their God. Peter's pronouncement slices through their guilt; their recriminations; their religious and legal defenses; their logic, their doubts, and their fears. They were cut to the heart, that place in their souls where no lie can easily rest and b/c they recognize their sin, they ask, “What are we to do?” And Peter tells them what to do. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. . .Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Among those who heard Peter preach that day were three thousand souls who accepted his message and were baptized. Those three thousand, once convicted in the truth and baptized in the name of Christ Jesus, would always recognize the voice of the Lord and his shepherds. A cut to the heart made by the sword that Christ himself yields is always deep and always permanent. It cannot be forgotten nor can it be mistaken for the mark of a stranger.

As men and women baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are deeply and permanently cut by the truth of the gospel. Christ's voice always rings true; the familiar authority of our shepherd is unmistakable, and we cannot be lead astray if we graze with his flock, the Church. The apostle Peter and his successors proclaim the central, abiding fact of our two-thousand year old flock: “God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” That's the sound, the voice of gospel truth, the words and the spirit that cuts the hearts of all those who long to see their lives redeemed, who desire a life beyond this one, who know that they will be perfected only when they come to see their Father face-to-face at the foot of His throne. Do you recognize that voice? More importantly, can you speak with that voice and spread the good news it proclaims? Sheep may be dirty, stupid, and prone to being eaten by wolves, but we are no ordinary sheep! We belong to the Eternal Shepherd and the world is our pasture to cultivate for him. Having heard his call, it's time for us to answer.

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