15 July 2013

BYOS: Bring Your Own Sword

St. Bonaventure 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

It's bad enough that Jesus lets us in on his little secret: he didn't come to bring peace but a sword. It's bad enough that he intends to use that sword to destroy families. It's bad enough that Jesus tells us that we have to love him more than we love our mothers, fathers, and children. It's bad enough that he tells us that if we want to live we must die and that dying means taking up a cross and following him. All of this sounds bad. But what makes it even worse is that Matthew brings this weird discourse to end by writing, “When Jesus finished giving these commands to his Twelve disciples, he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.” Commands. All that stuff about hating our parents and our children and dying to live, these are all commands!? Apparently. They aren't written like commands. They don't sound like commands when read aloud. How then are they commands? The Greek word (διατασσων) used here can also mean instruction or admonishment. But the idea seems to be: once you've become a disciple of Christ, Christ's teaching becomes a command, an order for ordering your life. 

So, how does Christ order us to order our lives? First, what do we mean by “ordering our lives”? It could mean something like “arranging our lifestyle priorities.” But that seems a little superficial. Jesus isn't telling us anything as ordinary as “make time for prayer in your busy day.” He's reaching for something far more fundamental, something more elemental in these commands. And he does it by shocking us into recognizing the rudimentary necessity of divine love: loving God is fundamental to our holiness b/c without His love for us we cannot love at all. So, Jesus is not telling us to hate mom, dad, and the kids and love him instead. He's shocking us into recognizing that the only reason we are able to love mom, dad, and the kids at all is b/c God loves us first. Think of it this way: everything that we use to love one another—heart, mind, body, soul—is created by divine love. If divine love had never created us, we wouldn't be here to love anyone or anything else. The only way to make sense of following Christ is to recognize that our desire to follow him is first and always about answering his call to love God and one another. Answering that call while living in the world causes problems. The kind of problems that showing up to a party with a sword usually causes. 

But showing up to parties with a sword is what we do. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we bring with us the sword Christ himself gave us. That sword—the truth of God's love and mercy—is rarely welcomed with shouts of joy. Comfortable lies get skewered. Bonds of fake affection get severed. Sinful limbs get chopped off. More than anything else, our sword miraculously shines Christ's light on the darkness that threatens to engulf us and all those nasty fibs about the “true meaning of love” get washed out. The selfishness, the pride, the abuse, the manipulation, the co-dependency—all planted and fed by the world's version of love—are exposed as the feeble imitations of love that they truly are. Jesus insists that we love him first b/c he knows that we too easily buy the generic, off-brand stuff that sells so well. And we'll starve to an eternal death feasting on that junk. How can we recognize the love that saves if we've never loved the One Who Saves? Jesus commands us to order our lives to his teachings, to get ourselves into the order mandated by divine love. That's how we receive him and reap a lover's reward. 
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Mapping the Squirrel Brain of a Dominican Friar

Here's how my Squirrel Brain works. . .

Writing a homily for the 5.30pm Mass today. . .I hear voices down in the piazza. . .I think: funeral, wedding, graduation. . .and then I freeze b/c I'm probably supposed to be celebrating the Mass. . .then I remember that this semester preaching course covers homilies for funerals, weddings, baptisms. . .then I remember that I haven't finished reading the book I've assigned for the class. . .then I spiral into a fugue state where all the books I've not read rise up to haunt me and make me feel guilty. . .then I remember that I'm not parochial vicar anymore so whatever's going on down there doesn't involve me. . .unless it's something I agreed to do before the new job offer came and I've forgotten it. . .I glance at my calendar and notice that I was supposed to go to a formation council meeting today at the seminary and I start to berate myself for being such a squirrel brain. . .then I notice that I've put the meeting on July 15th instead of Aug 15th and now I feel better. . .so I reward myself by watching several "how to paint an abstract painting" vids on Youtube. . .and then I remember that I have a homily to finish and then one of the brothers knocks on my door to give me a DVD full of cheesy zombie movies and we start talking about how zombies are an apt metaphor for the decline of western culture. . .then I realize that I need to shave before Mass. . .

All of this happens in fewer than 30 seconds. And today has been a relatively calm day for my Squirrel.
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