24 August 2013

That gate ain't gettin' any wider. . .

NB. Mass with the seminary community tomorrow morning, so here's a Vintage Fr. Philip Homily from 2007. The podcast link still works, so give a listen and leave me some feedback!

21st Sunday OT: Isa 66.18-21; Heb 12.5-7, 11-13; Luke 13.22-30
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul Hospital, Dallas, TX

That narrow gate ain’t getting any wider, and the wider I get the more I worry! There are times when I make a run for the gate, hoping to hit it hard enough to squeeze most of me through. You know, just hope that momentum pushes me on through. And there are other times that I think I might be able to slowly twist and turn, wiggle and jiggle in the right angles and pop on through. It’s a matter of finesse and know-how. And there are still other times that I just fall on the ground in front of the gate, kicking my feet and squalling like a baby needing his diaper changed! Let me through! Let me through! But fits and tempers don’t widen the gate either. Here’s my theory about that Narrow Gate: the gate is inversely proportionate to the size of the Pride trying to get through. The bigger the Pride, the narrower the gate. Humility—that lived-knowing that we are totally dependent on God for everything—my humility, your humility widens the gate and our Lord will say to us on the other side, “Hey! I know y’all! Come, recline at my table.” Momentum will not propel you through. Spiritual fervor, religious athleticism won’t help either. Nor will finesse or knowledge or good family connections wave you through ahead of the line. Infantile belly-aching about fairness and justice won’t reward you eternal life. Nor will whining about what you think you are entitled to / help you force your way through.

Someone asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Notice, please, that Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. Instead he instructs, then warns, then prophesies. First, the instruction: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…” Then the warning: “…many, I tell you, will attempt to enter [the narrow gate]...” And finally the prophecy: “...but [they] will not be strong enough [to enter].” Unlike most of what we hear preached in our Catholic parishes these days and taught in our Catholic seminaries, this teaching is unambiguously exclusive, clearly it is not the all-inclusive, gates-wide-open-garden-banquet that we’ve been taught to believe represents salvation through Christ. Jesus couldn’t be more straightforward, more plain spoken: after the master of the house has locked the door, those standing outside will knock and plead, “Lord, open the door for us.” And the master will say, “I do not know where you are from.” And those outside will remind him that they ate and drank with him, listening to his teachings. The master will respond, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” Much wailing and gnashing of teeth follows. Now, is this the nonjudgmental, all-inclusive, diversity and difference welcoming Jesus we’ve come to know and ignore? I don’t think so.

Our Lord is not a way to God among various but equally valid ways to God. Our Lord is not a truth among numerous but perfectly legitimate truths. Our Lord is not a life among different but equivalently honorable lives. Jesus says, “I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life, and no one come to the Father, except through me. Christ is the Narrow Gate of salvation; he is the door to perfect freedom, perfect joy, perfect life, and that door opens for anyone, anyone at all—no one is excluded by Christ from the invitation to eternal life through Christ Jesus. Every human person, everyone, all of us are invited to knock on the gate in humility, to show him that we have been of service to the least of God’s children, and that we have put ourselves last in the kingdom by training our hearts and minds, by teaching our hands and feet through the daily exercise of righteousness—our workout routine in God’s Gym!

You might be confused now. Didn’t I say earlier that the teaching in this gospel is unambiguously exclusive? And didn’t I just say that Christ invitation to the gate and the party beyond it is all—inclusive! No one is left out. Exactly right. Christ leaves no one out of his invitation to follow him. No one. Jesus says, “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” No race, no sex, no color, no religious creed, no nationality, no sexual proclivity, no nothing is excluded from the call to holiness in Christ Jesus. Aight. So, who are those people on the condemned side of the locked door? Who are the evildoers that the master is cussing at? The ones who couldn’t squeeze through the narrow gate? Those are the ones who hear the call but do not answer it. The ones who come to the gate swollen with pride, envy, greed, self-righteousness. The ones who work hard to get themselves through the gate but never love. The ones who think that their mama and daddy’s money or family name or political connections would get them through ahead of the trash in line. The ones who plan on forcing their way in, bullying God with witchcraft and theologies of liberation. The ones who will not be disciplined by any authority, any instruction, any law. The ones who consistently and finally chose to use their freedom as license and squander their heavenly inheritance on a gamble against the house, God’s house. Those who stand on the other side of the gate, wailing and grinding their teeth, are there b/c they choose to be there: unambiguously excluded.

I said earlier that the Gate’s size is inversely proportionate to the size of the pride/humility of the person seeking to get through. How do we shrink our pride and swell our humility? The letter to the Hebrews tell us that the discipline of the Lord brings “the peaceful fruits of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” OK. What is this discipline? “Discipline” is an ordered form of learning, an organized means of attaining knowledge and/or enlightenment. Most anything can be a discipline: exercising, dieting, reading/writing, study, prayer. The key to discipline is that it is done in an orderly way under some authority—a teacher, a coach, a supervisor, a spiritual director. We are not to disdain the “discipline of the Lord,” meaning we are not to deride or disrespect the orderly authority of Christ in teaching us his truth. From Hebrews we learn that his discipline is our faithful way of enduring trial, our obedient means of suffering well under testing. This endurance, this suffering is a witness; this is testimony under duress and evidence for the Kingdom!

To repeat: Hebrews tell us that the discipline of the Lord brings “the peaceful fruits of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Here’s your question for today: are you trained by the Lord’s discipline? Do you find yourself scourged by the love of the Father? He acknowledges you, so he treats you like a son; yes, even the women he treats like sons—as ones who will inherit His kingdom! Do you find pain or joy in your trials? Do you find peace or turmoil in obeying Christ? Do your hands droop and your knees grow weak thinking about the gospel-task in front of you? Do you give God thanks for your difficulties or do you complain? If you are made lame in your trials, it is better to make straight paths for your feet so that they may be healed and not disjointed. IOW, clear the path ahead of you by blasting it with gratitude to God! Yes, give God thanks for your diseases, your failures, your trials and persecutions, your disjointed bones and tired flesh. Thank Him and be disciplined. Be disciplined by the love that calls you to holiness, always calls to you to come to Him, and to pass through the narrow gate; you, shrunken in pride but swollen with humility; you, son of God, you, last of the least.

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23 August 2013

New class


Got word this morning that I'll be teaching a class on the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the pre-theologians at NDS this fall. . .

. . .along with Homiletics II and Proclaiming the Word. . .

. . .along with formation duties. . .

It's gonna be a BUSY semester.

Can't wait. . .
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22 August 2013

Coffee Cup Browsing (Insomnia Edition)

More union hand-wringing over ObamaCare.  Shudda thought of that back in '09, guys! 

Welfare a better deal than a job.

GOP Guv, Chris Christie: latest Catholic pol to defy his faith.

Peter Kreeft's list of recommended books for the DIY philosopher.

Atheist debunks common atheist myth of the Christian Dark Ages. 

Will the LCWR work with the CDF? Remember: "dialogue" is dissenter-code for "stall."
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21 August 2013

St Louis Cathedral Mass/Mendicancy

Celebrated Mass this morning at St Louis Cathedral with retired New Orleans archbishop Alfred Hughes.

The new seminarians -- all 27 of them -- were present.  

This was my first visit to the cathedral!

Also, much gratitude to the kind souls who've recently visited the Wish List and sent books my way.

I'm working on a seminar for the fall called tentatively, Preaching and Nihilism

The idea is to introduce the fourth year seminarians to the notion of postmodern culture and the inevitable nihilistic tendencies that come with eliminating transcendental referents (God, Beauty, Truth, Goodness, etc.) from our cultural vocabulary.  


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"Devote oneself to [preaching] with love"

I'm collecting selections from ecclesial documents on preaching for the homiletics students. 

Here's one from Pope Paul VI's Evangelii nuntiandi:

42. [. . .] Preaching, the verbal proclamation of a message, is indeed always indispensable. We are well aware that modern man is sated by talk; he is obviously often tired of listening and, what is worse, impervious to words. We are also aware that many psychologists and sociologists express the view that modern man has passed beyond the civilization of the word, which is now ineffective and useless, and that today he lives in the civilization of the image. These facts should certainly impel us to employ, for the purpose of transmitting the Gospel message, the modern means which this civilization has produced. Very positive efforts have in fact already been made in this sphere. We cannot but praise them and encourage their further development. The fatigue produced these days by so much empty talk and the relevance of many other forms of communication must not however diminish the permanent power of the word, or cause a loss of confidence in it. The word remains ever relevant, especially when it is the bearer of the power of God.[70] This is why St. Paul's axiom, "Faith comes from what is heard,"[71] also retains its relevance: it is the Word that is heard which leads to belief. 

43. This evangelizing preaching takes on many forms, and zeal will inspire the reshaping of them almost indefinitely. In fact there are innumerable events in life and human situations which offer the opportunity for a discreet but incisive statement of what the Lord has to say in this or that particular circumstance. It suffices to have true spiritual sensitivity for reading God's message in events. But at a time when the liturgy renewed by the Council has given greatly increased value to the Liturgy of the Word, it would be a mistake not to see in the homily an important and very adaptable instrument of evangelization. Of course it is necessary to know and put to good use the exigencies and the possibilities of the homily, so that it can acquire all its pastoral effectiveness. But above all it is necessary to be convinced of this and to devote oneself to it with love. This preaching, inserted in a unique way into the Eucharistic celebration, from which it receives special force and vigor, certainly has a particular role in evangelization, to the extent that it expresses the profound faith of the sacred minister and is impregnated with love. The faithful assembled as a Paschal Church, celebrating the feast of the Lord present in their midst, expect much from this preaching, and will greatly benefit from it provided that it is simple, clear, direct, well-adapted, profoundly dependent on Gospel teaching and faithful to the magisterium, animated by a balanced apostolic ardor coming from its own characteristic nature, full of hope, fostering belief, and productive of peace and unity. Many parochial or other communities live and are held together thanks to the Sunday homily, when it possesses these qualities.

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20 August 2013


My Dominican Mendicant Thanks to the kind soul who sent me The End of Apologetics.

I will have a chance to make use of this book very, very soon. . .

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18 August 2013

Have you come to help our Lord set fire to the world?

20th Sunday in OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP 
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Surrounded as we are by so great a cloud of witnesses, I must ask you all: have you come to help our Lord set fire to the world?! Have you come here to help him destroy the family; to divide the nation; and to conquer the Church? If not, remember: the waters of your baptism did not extinguish the Spirit's fire set ablaze in you; rather those blessed waters feed and spread the fire of the Holy Spirit like gasoline, consuming you, burning you to perfection. And your job, my job, our job together is to run shouting like lunatics—holy priests and prophets—to run shouting through the dry-tinder kindling of this world, setting everything cold and hard and brittle on fire with the Holy Spirit! If you will follow Christ, walk his Way, carrying his Cross as yours, then you will become a Holy Pyromaniac. 

We read in Hebrews, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that cling to us…” Fire burns its fuel first. The fire of the Holy Spirit burns away every burden and sin, releasing the grip of anxiety and freeing body and soul from the sickening weight of disobedience. Essentially, we are lightened for the race before us, unencumbered for navigating the Way and finding our Morningstar. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, “the leader and perfecter of faith,” every burden, every obstacle, every failure is lifted, surmounted, rectified, and we are propelled into the same joy that Christ saw before him through the Cross. Through the Cross. Not around it or under it or above it but through it. Only through the Cross did he and do we come to our long anticipated glory in the presence the Father's throne. 

 But what does “only through the Cross can we find joy” mean day-to-day, minute-to-minute? First, be warned: the race to the Cross is heart-wearying! It’s not a test b/c a test is too easy. You have the help of the Holy Spirit! What’s a test when the H.S. is your cheat sheet? There is no obstacle course, something like a heroic passage from Greek myth—no giants to behead, no mutant spiders to outwit. You don’t even have to memorize any arcane languages or master multiple sets of occult symbols or chase down any wizardly objects. No. What you have to do is actually much, much worse than all these combined; much more difficult and painful: you must release your pride; unclench your self-satisfaction and arrogance, your misplaced sense of duty and control; and you must be weak before the Lord, praying, “I too wish the world were already ablaze for you, Lord! Kindle in me the fire of your righteousness, burn away my burdens and sins, and make me a torch for your purifying love.” To joy through the Cross. . .

Going to the Cross for us, for our example and our benefit, Christ poured himself out, emptied himself in total subjection to the Father, becoming for us our sin. His kenosis, his abandonment to the worst of human depravity and his freely accepted death for our sake, is the spark for a holy fire, the match that pops and flares and sets all creation blazing in sacrifice. Every thing, every person and place, every relationship and bond, every right and wrong, all of it, our peace, our achievements, our grand plans and projects, our deeply held convictions and logical conclusions, our allegiances and sworn wars, our science, theology, philosophy, art, all of it, everything is transfigured, transformed in the perfecting conflagration of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. I tell you, Jesus says, I did not come to bring peace but division; neither comfort nor convenience but ferment and want. I will leave it all in ash and smoke. For I come to reorder, to re-establish, to resurrect and renew every bond, every promise, even life itself. Our Holy Father, Francis, said in his Sunday Angelus message in Rome, “. . .faith is not a decorative, ornamental thing, you do not decorate your life with a little bit of religion. . . Faith is not a decoration, as if it were simply the icing on the cake!” 

A decorative faith, a small religion cannot strike even the tiniest spark much less set the world on fire. A decorative faith, a small religion cannot resist sin nor can they proclaim the Good News. Have we resisted the world to the point of shedding our blood? Our brothers and sisters in the Egypt and Syria have. Those of us in the Sudan have bled and bled. In China, we bleed for the state’s fear of an all-consuming fire. In Louisiana? Probably not today or tomorrow. But it’s not impossible that one of us here or all of us together could be called to resist sin to the point of shedding blood. Is that frightening? Of course. Our faith, or rather our religion, is a comfort to us. We find settled patterns and rhythms here. Familiarity and peace. Should our faith be comforting? I mean, should the fact that we trust a man who willing died on a cross for us be a source of comfort to us? You have vowed to do the same for me, ya know? To die for me. And I for you. That promise of witness is greater than family or friends or neighbors. That promise to stand up and speak up and give witness to a mighty God is greater than the condolences of religion or the temporary excitement of spirituality. For the sake of your joy beg to be emptied of every burden, every sin, and then fix your eyes on Jesus. He is the only leader, the only perfecter of our faith. 

Again: surrounded as we are by so great a cloud of witnesses, I must ask you all: have you come to help our Lord to set fire to the world?! 
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Homily Podcasts 2006-2008

A faithful HA reader asked about older podcasts of my homilies. . .Where did they go?  

Well, they didn't float off into the ether!

Here they are:  Homily Podcasts 2006-2008

These were preached mostly to the folks at the Church of the Incarnation at the University of Dallas in Irving, TX when I served there as a campus minister.

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