29 June 2013

The dead bury the dead

NB. Deacons preaching this weekend. So, here's a homily of mine from 2007. . .a little Vintage Fr. Philip.

13th Sunday OT 2013
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Luke’s Parish, Irving, TX (Vigil Mass) & St Paul's Hospital

Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God! I say, then: live by the Spirit! Go, follow Christ, and live by the Spirit! Well, what are you waiting for? Go! This command is like Jesus’ command to us to love one another. If I were yell at you: Go and buy me peanut butter! Or, Go, follow the bus, and visit Houston! Well, you would know what to do, right? You have some idea of what it is I’m yelling at you to do. But when Paul yells at the Galatians: “I say, then: live by the Spirit!” and Jesus says, “Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God!”—do we have any idea what they are yelling at us to do? Maybe we have some vague notions about doing good deeds and going to Mass and making sure other people know we’re Catholic. Or, maybe we think that it means to do something really strange like joining a monastery or becoming a nun or a priest or starting to have visions of Mary or St. Agnes in the shrubs. Probably not what Paul and Jesus had in mind. So, what do they want us to do when they tell us to follow Christ, live in the Spirit, and proclaim the Kingdom of God?

How easy would it be for me to let us all off the hook here and repeat the predictable? Let me pump you up with the sweet air and tasty bits of religious cliché—to follow Christ, live in the Spirit, and proclaim the Kingdom of God are all just matters of the heart—right intention, good feelings, sweetness and light, and basically, just being a swell guy or gal. Or, I could really let you off the hook and tell you that following Christ, living in the Spirit, and proclaiming the Kingdom are all big tasks that require a lot of work and time and organization; so, tell you what: let the pros worry about it—the priests and lay ministers—and you just show up here every Sunday, do your Mass-thing, and go home as if nothing happened. Sorry. Can’t do that. Paul and Jesus are teaching us something very different. . .

Paul, quoting Jesus, reminds the Galatians that “the whole of the law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Then he tells them to live in the Spirit so as to not “gratify the desire of the flesh.” What is this desire? First, “desire” is a kind of lacking; a wanting and not having, a longing for a promised completion or fulfillment. (Paul is most likely talking about inordinate sexual desire here.) He continues, “…the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh…” What is a desire of the Spirit? Most basically, this desire is a longing to be with God forever; to be brought back to Him free and whole.

Now, you might come away from this teaching believing that Paul is arguing for a kind of dualism: flesh vs. Spirit; body vs. soul. No. He doesn’t say that the flesh and Spirit oppose one another. He says that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit oppose one another. These opposing desires prevent you from doing what you want to do. And who are you? You are body and soul, flesh and spirit. One person, undivided; one will, one intellect. And if in one person there is a battle between the disordered and well-ordered desires of both body and Spirit then that person is a slave. Thank God that “for freedom Christ set us free”!

Living in the Spirit is at once perfectly simple and immensely complex. Perfectly simple b/c all we have to do is become Christ for one another. Easy cheesy. Just become Christ! Living in the Spirit is immensely complex b/c we have to become Christ for one another. Very difficult. Becoming Christ is perfectly simple b/c we are brought to that transformation in baptism. But becoming Christ is immensely difficult b/c we must continue to cooperate with the gift of baptism all our lives. If you are consumed by a conflict between the desires of your flesh and the desires of your Spirit, how capable are you of cooperating with God’s baptismal graces? This is why Paul teaches the Galatians: “…do not use this freedom [the freedom to cooperate with God’s grace in Christ] as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.” Love being, of course, the Spirit—the Holy Spirit, the love the Father and Son have for one another, the creating and redeeming passion that made us, saves us, and feeds us.

So, if you will be guided by the Spirit, you must follow Christ! Excellent. I’ll follow Christ. What does that mean? As Jesus and the disciples were proceeding to Jerusalem, Someone says to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” To another Someone along the way, Jesus says, “Follow me.” And then Another One further along says, “I will follow you, Lord. . .” To the first Someone Jesus replies, “…the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Translation: following me ain’t easy—it’s work and hard work and long hours and rest comes only with death; there’s no “time off” or “vacation” from Becoming Christ for One Another. The second Someone answers Jesus, “I will follow, but let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Translation: right now is the time to follow; there is no postponement, no hesitation; do not wait until this and that and all those things are done; the dead are dead, Become Christ for the living now! Then the last Someone promises Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord” but then he hesitates, “but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” And Jesus says to him: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom.” Translation: if you will do my work here and now, you must do my work Here and Now; leave behind what cannot or will not come with you. To those of us along the way to Jerusalem—to the cross and the empty tomb—to those of us along the Way who say, “I will follow you, Lord, but I must go and do this or that first,” Jesus says, “I am First. If you will follow me, I am First. If you will live in my Spirit, I am First. If you will proclaim my kingdom, I am First.”

Living in the Spirit is the day to day struggle to be free from the slavery of sin. To live free in Christ is to be guided by Love, that is, to be directed, constantly poked and prodded, by your redeemed desire to live with God forever—to serve each another with one heart and one mind; graciously sacrificing for friends and enemies alike; drowning in prayer, breathing God’s Word, breaking his body and drinking his blood; becoming, here and now, Christ for others. If you will say to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord” do so without regret, hesitation, without burden, or debt; do so shamelessly, eagerly, without guile or presumption; do so immediately, full-throated with arms spread, without fear or foreboding; not looking back, but falling head-long and free into the field, taking on his yoke and proclaiming first with every breath, first with every muscle and every drop of sweat: Christ is Lord! And his kingdom is at hand!

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28 June 2013

Squirrels, nuns, and fried chicken

This will be my final weekend as Parochial Vicar for St. Dominic Church.  

Early Monday morning I will head north to spend a few weeks with the Parentals and dodge the squirrels.

Then, I have a four day visit with the Dominican nuns in Summit, NJ.  We'll be discussing Lumen Gentium.

Back to NOLA for a few days and then off to Michigan to spend ten days with the Ortonville Dominican nuns.  We'll be discussing BXVI's Spe salvi.

Back to NOLA and the start of classes at Notre Dame Seminary in late August.

A whirlwind summer!
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27 June 2013

The storm's debris

St. Cyril of Alexandria 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic, NOLA 

We pick up where we left off yesterday with Jesus telling the disciples that only those who do the will of the Father can be called his. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven. . .” Those who cry out his name but fail to do the Father's will are false prophets, “ravenous wolves” posing as sheep. And even if these wolves do good deeds—prophesy, cast out demons, end world hunger—all in Christ's name, he will say on the last day, “Depart from me, you evildoers. I never knew you.” He never knew them. Why? Because they never knew him. Not for who he is, anyway; not as one who came among us to bring the Good New. Not as the Word made flesh to die for our sins. They might've known him as a Do-Gooder, or an Inspirational Teacher, or a Traveling Wizard. But they didn't know him as the Christ, the Son of God. If we will be like the wise man who builds his house on rock, we will listen to his words and act on them; otherwise, we will be like the fool who builds on sand. We will collapse and be utterly ruined. On what, on whom is your life built? 

Since we started with a little Apocalyptic doom and gloom, let's temper it a bit with the Philosophic; that is, without turning a deaf ear to Jesus' clear warnings, let's spend a bit of time wondering about the purpose of a foundation, more specifically, the proper foundation for a life lived in Christ. In the Builders' metaphor that Jesus uses, we have two foundations: one of rock, one of sand. The rock foundation provides stability and durability for anything built on it. The sand foundation provides neither, only a temporary, constantly shifting surface that cannot be trusted for strength or endurance. The whole purpose of a foundation is to give a structure an ordered footprint, a firm grounding so that the building has a good chance of withstanding whatever comes against it. If your life is the structure, who or what is your foundation? If you've built your life on the shifting sands of this world's goods; or, on the promises of this world's rulers, then your life probably cannot withstand what this world chooses to bring against you. Why should the goods and powers of the world support you when the world itself attacks? Christ is the only sure foundation for a life built to endure this world and beyond, beyond the vicious whims of the Enemy and his deep longing to see us fall. 

Christ's rock-solid foundation extends strata-deep to heaven-high and stamps more than just a churchy footprint. To build a life on the Rock of Christ means bringing into your spiritual house both your public and your private life; your history and your secrets; your politics, your science, your entertainment; both your wealth and your poverty; every minute of every day not just those minutes spent in Church. In other words, if we will build our lives on the Rock of Christ, we cannot build another house on the sand, a “shack-up” flat for rendezvouses with the world. We cannot commit spiritual adultery with the Enemy and expect Christ to sit quietly at home, meekly waiting for our return. We cannot prostitute ourselves for acclaim or influence or comfort and expect our Lord not to notice. So, we can do the will of the Father; or, we can be the slaves of sin and wash away with the storm's debris. If we want Christ to know us at the end, then we must spend time and energy getting to know him now. And we cannot do that if we're busy juggling the world's promises on a sand bar. Listen to his word. Act on his word. And your faithfulness—at the end—will not be in doubt. 
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26 June 2013

Why am I not comforted?

No worries, Religious Bigots. . .errrrr. . .People, B.O.'s got your back*:

“On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vita [. . .] How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions.  Nothing about this decision — which applies only to civil marriages — changes that.” 

This from the same guy who is gleefully forcing Catholics to pay for artificial contraception and arbortifacients.

Apparently, having to pay for having your conscience violated is not a particularly "sensitive" issue.

* Until it becomes politically expedient to toss us under the already overcrowded bus.

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Are you a false prophet?

12th Week OT (W) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic, NOLA 

The Christ's Herald, John the Baptist, has been on the Church's mind this week. We consider him the last true prophet of God, or rather the last prophet singularly sent to proclaim God's Word. The Catechism teaches us, “In [John the Baptist], the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah”(no. 719). If John has completed the tasks given to all of God's prophets, why is Jesus warning us about false prophets? And why does Paul tell us that prophecy is one of the gifts of the Spirit? Since we have all been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, we are all prophets. So, the office and role of prophet still exists. What John completed was the prophetic mission of the Old Covenant: to announce the coming of the Messiah. Now that he's arrived, the world needs to hear from a different kind of prophet. You and me. And here's where the false prophets come in. Jesus is warning his flock against those who pose as prophets of the New Covenant (pretend to be of the flock) but who do not do the will of the Father. Only those who do the will of the Father can be truly prophetic in His name. 

Typically, when we think of false prophets, we focus on those who are teaching heresy. Bishops, priests, religious, lay theologians, etc. who teach against the faith on some controversial theological issue. But if we are all prophets in virtue of baptism, then all of us are capable of being false to our prophetic mission. And what is that mission? To be a prophet of the New Covenant, to be a herald of Christ in 2013 means exactly what it did in 113 AD, 1313 AD, and 1913 AD. It means going to all nations and peoples and proclaiming the arrival of the Christ and the advent of his kingdom. It means courageously proclaiming God's freely given mercy to sinners. It means giving witness to our own encounters with mercy; our own clashes with sin and death; our own healing from unclean spirits, and the freedom we enjoy from the necessities of sin. Jesus says that we will know true prophets by their good fruits. What good fruits are you producing and harvesting? Are you spreading mercy, forgiveness, genuine charity, and peace to those around you? Or are you causing conflict, dissension, and spreading despair? We've been warned: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

Too often our culture approves of some sin we enjoy and that gives us reason enough to continue in the sin. I could list them off for you: sex outside of marriage, same-sex “marriage,” gossip, racism, immodest dress, cursing, the use of artificial contraception, and many others. Each of these is approved in some way by the world. Why? Because each one causes strife btw the children of God. Each one of these directly defies our Father's will for our good, so, of course, the world approves. Our tasks as prophets is not to go around wagging righteous fingers, or condemning unrepentant sinners. Our task is to SHOW sinners (including ourselves) that sin is now just an option; that is, none of us has to sin b/c we have been freed by Christ. If our lives look like drudgery, if we sound like heartbroken donkeys at prayer, then we have failed in our prophetic mission. We don't have to be happy-clappy airheads. But we can at the very least look and sound reasonable pleased that Christ died for us so that we don't have to go to hell if we don't want to. That's the bare minimum required when it comes to displaying our good fruits. That we are joyful. Pleased. Reasonably happy. That we are prophets with a most excellent message to share: Christ is come! And his kingdom isn't far behind. 
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24 June 2013

Why does the Christ need a herald?

NB. Yesterday's homily took me about five hrs. to wring from my brain.  I think I sprained something. Just wasn't up to the task today. . .so, here's one from 2007. Mea culpa.

Nativity of John the Baptist 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic, NOLA 

Zechariah’s tongue is freed to speak. Once he has agreed to name his son “John,” which means “God shows Himself to be gracious,” his tongue is unstuck. Having been punished with silence for failing to believe that God could give him and his wife, Elizabeth, a son so late in his life, Zechariah sees his son for the miracle that he is and blesses God with his first words! But how quickly his words of blessing become words of worry among the people of Judea when it becomes clear that this son is no ordinary child. Luke reports, “All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” What will the child be? Who did he become? John the Baptist is the Harbinger crying for our repentance before the coming of the Lord! 

Why does the Christ need a herald? Here's part of the reason: It's just common sense to say that we receive information about the world based on our natural abilities to receive physical sensations; that is, we see, hear, feel, taste, smell because we have eyes, ears, skin, tongues, and noses. Our first contact with creation is sensual; we are made in a way that makes it possible for us to live and thrive, in a manner that prepares us for living day to day in a world of things and processes. But are we naturally prepared to received the Word Made Flesh? Are we made to see and hear and taste the arrival of the Messiah? Of course, this isn’t a question about our physical readiness to greet the Lord but one about our capacity to think and feel and live with the reality of his coming in the flesh and his staying among us in the Spirit. 

The coming of the Messiah is hardly a secret. The prophets of the Old Covenant have made his coming abundantly evident. God Himself promised that a virgin would conceive and bear a child named “Emmanuel,” “God-is-with-us.” This is not occult science but prophetic art, a clarion call to point the way to the eventual presence of God Himself among His people. So, why do we have John the Herald coming before the Messiah? At the very least, John’s conception, birth, life, and public ministry are all meant to prepare us to receive Christ as the gift he is meant to be. It is one thing for the Father to hand us His Son to us; it is quite another for us to receive His Son as a gift. Clearly, John’s arrival means that we were not ready to say Yes to God’s gift of salvation through His Son. Luke reports in Acts, “John heralded [Jesus’] coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel…” To be ready, we must turn around and face God head on. 

John came out of the desert to preach his gospel of repentance. Out of a barren waste, the dry and weary land of sand and heat, John brings the cool cleansing waters of baptism, the fresh promise of renewal that—once taken in faith—prepares the eyes and ears to see and hear the good news that arrives with the birth of his cousin, Jesus the Christ. With John, our Father shows Himself to be gracious by preparing us for His coming among us; that is, John, God’s sign of grace, precedes God’s act of final mercy, Jesus; and He is with us. That we are to turn around and face this revelation of His gift is perfectly sensible. How, otherwise, would we come to know and love Him Who dies for us? How would we reach out and receive what God desires to give us as gift if we were not facing Him, hands out, pristine and thankful? 

The people of Judea worried, “What, then, will this child be?” John answers, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not [the Christ]…” No, he isn’t. Instead, he comes out of the desert to prepare us to accept—through our repentance of sin—the gift of God among us, our lasting cure, our final healing, the one who comes after him to die so that we might have eternal life.
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New Dominican Priests!

Congratulations to the Rev. Frs. Augustine Dermond, OP and Thomas Schaefgen, OP who were ordained to the priesthood this last Saturday! 

L to R: Fr. Chris Eggleton, OP (Provincial), Fr. Augustine, Bishop Terry Steib, SVD (Memphis), and Fr. Thomas.

Augustine and Thomas were novices in Irving, TX when I was assigned there. Seems like yesterday that they were just Baby Dominicans.  I feel old.

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23 June 2013

Heirs according to the promise

12th Sunday OT 2013 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic, NOLA 

Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow Christ. If you will save your life for heaven, you will lose your life for Christ on earth. But if you seek to spare yourself suffering, trial, and persecution while you're alive, you'll just end up losing your eternal life. The choice couldn't be any clearer, or any more depressing. To follow Christ, it seems, is to live a life of mortification, sacrifice, and self-denial; grimly determined to slog through this vale of tears, hoping and praying that our lives after this one will be better. The most we can hope for while trapped in this mortal coil is that we'll be given the chance to die a martyr's death and escape a long sentence in purgatory. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. And follow Christ to your execution in the Valley of Skulls. Of course, what this dreary picture leaves out is the daily reward of following Christ: the peace that comes from detaching ourselves from the weight of impermanent things; the joy that comes from forgiving and being forgiven; the knowledge that our love for others is perfecting God's love in us. It leaves out the part where mortification, sacrifice, and self-denial are our ways of offering God praise, of giving Him thanks. This dismal picture of Christian life forgets to ask, “Who do you say that you are?” 

Paul starts us on the way to an answer. Addressing the Galatians, he writes, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Who do we say that we are? Let's change Paul's declaration up a bit: “Through faith we are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of us who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ.” Who do we say that we are? Children of God in Christ. Dead, buried, and raised with Christ in baptism. We have put on Christ, been clothed with Christ. We belong to Christ. So, when we deny ourselves, we only give away that which is no longer ours to keep. When we take up a cross, it is Christ's cross that we lift up. When we follow after him, it is not our lives that we are spending but his. What is truly dreary, truly dismal is living a life ordered toward the things of this world, the things that will pass away, that will inevitable abandon us. What's truly depressing is spending your life staring at an end where nothing begins, where your only hope is that after you die someone might remember you. Is that who you are? Who you will be? A memory—fond or not—just a memory? 

How do we get to the best answer to the question of who we are? We can start with the questions Jesus asks his disciples. First, he wants to know who the crowds say that he is. They answer. Then, he turns to his friends and students and asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers for the disciples. Note that Jesus first asks about the crowds, then he directly questions his friends. What do the disciples know about Jesus that the crowds do not? This is exactly what Jesus wants them to recognize and confess. They know who he is, and those in the crowds do not. Knowing who Jesus truly is means knowing what his purpose is, what he is here to be and do. The crowds think that Jesus is a just another prophet, like Elijah or John the Baptist. So, at most, those in the crowds will see a miracle or two; maybe two or three of them will be healed. But b/c the disciples know and confess Jesus' identity as the Christ of God, they belong to Christ; they are Abraham’s descendants; and “heirs according to the promise.” The best way to answer the question of who we are is to correctly answer the question: who do you say that Jesus is? Who you say Jesus is is who you are. 

And if you say that Jesus is the Christ, then you will deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow him. If you will save your life for heaven, you will lose your life for Christ on earth. But if you seek to spare yourself suffering, trial, and persecution by denying Christ while you're alive, you'll just end up losing your eternal life. The reason for this is simple: you belong to Christ. We all belong to Christ. And belonging to Christ has consequences. As heirs to the promise, we have our own promises to keep. To seek holiness through sacrifice and self-denial. To bear witness to the mercy we've received from God. To forgive those who have sinned against us. To enthrone the Holy Spirit in the tabernacles of our hearts and surrender all of our gifts to His service. None of these promises is easy to fulfill. But they are all the more difficult to keep if we shy away from confessing that Jesus is the Christ, if we persist in following the crowds and making him into a latter-day prophet, or a social reformer, or a political revolutionary. He showed us the way to eternal life on his cross—sacrificial love. And it is sacrificial love that will nail each one of us to our own cross. . .if we will follow him; if we deny the Self and all that bloats and rots the Self in this world. 

So, who do you say that Jesus is? Do you follow after a Barbie Doll Jesus, changing his designer outfits whenever the whimsy strikes you? Do you say that he was just a religious leader that died in the first century? Some biblical scholars argue that Jesus was really an early second century literary composite of many different prophets. The gospel writers and editors invented Jesus to help the early church in its PR campaign against the Jews and Romans. Or maybe you would say that Jesus was a peace-nik vegan hippie prototype with serious Daddy issues?Just remember: whoever you say that Jesus is tells you who you are. And what you have promised to do with your life. And what you will be after you are gone. Our Lord isn't a Barbie Doll or a literary composite. And following him isn't always a parade. He tells the disciples what will happen to him: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the [religious leaders] and be killed and on the third day be raised.” If they follow him, they can expect the same. And so can we. Knowing this, expecting this: who do you say that Jesus is? Not just “who is Jesus to you” but who is he really, truly? If he is the Christ, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. Daily. Daily, seek to spend your life living as a child of God clothed with Christ. You belong to Christ. You are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to the promise. 
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