19 October 2013

Christ is not who we want him to be. . .

From 2008: Hmmmm. . .this one seems particularly relevant these days. . .no worries: there will be a new one tomorrow, one for the readings for Year C.

29th Sunday OT: Isa 45.1-4-6; 1 Thes 1.1-5; Matt 22.15-21
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
The Pharisees show Jesus a Roman coin and ask whether or not they should pay Caesar’s taxes. Matthew tells us that “knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?... ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar's.’ At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’" Much has been made of this infamous distinction between what is God’s and what is Caesar’s. And even more could be made of it during this tense political season. I have preached before that ultimately the distinction is meaningless because everything belongs to God, including Caesar himself. I will not belabor the point. Rather, this morning the more interesting moment in this story is the moment Jesus calls the Pharisees out for questioning him, or more precisely, for “testing” him. According to Jesus, the Pharisees test him out of a malicious hypocrisy; that is, a hateful insincerity, a spiteful duplicity. Their apparently sincere question about paying taxes is really a contrived event to catch him up, a staged incident, choreographed and scripted to force Jesus into either treason against Rome or blasphemy against God. Jesus skillfully dodges the trap with an ultimately meaningless answer, but Jesus teaches his lesson nonetheless: “I am not who you want me to be, Pharisees.”

Let’s get down to the question: who do you want God to be? Father, Mother, Santa Claus, mischievous elf, mythical Ego, Jungian archetype, Ground of Being? Spiritual direction often starts with a question about one’s image of God. Our prayer life tells us volumes about how we understand who God is for us. In desperate times, an image of God emerges. Suffering carves out of us a hard figure of God. When we reach beyond ourselves, beyond the possibilities of easy helps and cheap fixes, we usually reach out toward heaven and call on our God for His care, His rescue. And this is exactly what we ought to do. There is nothing so humbling and spiritually purifying as a moment of desperation, a flash of weakness, or damaging stupidity that drives us to God’s comfort. But we must be careful: “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” Our God is not our student, every ready to be questioned, every ready to be tested.

Obviously, like most politicians probing an opponents weaknesses, the Pharisees are trying to trip Jesus up by asking him the “are you still beating your wife?” sort of question. No answer is good, any answer will be vacuous in the end. The point of the exchange is not to find the truth but to expose a hated enemy as worthy of one’s hate. Jesus calls this attempt malicious and hypocritical. Malicious because their intent is evil and hypocritical because they know that they are not asking a real question but setting a trap. Their insincerity is poisonous. But only to themselves. Who do they need him to be? Or perhaps the best question: who do they hope he turns out to be? Given their institutional investments and political commitments, no doubt the Pharisees hope he turns out to be little more than a madman from Nazareth.

Given your institutional investments and political commitments, who do you hope Jesus turns out to be? Jesus says to give to Caesar what is his and give to God what belongs to Him. Of course, this means that we give all things to God in the end b/c all that belongs to Caesar really belongs to God. For a while, while we walk around on the dirt, we give Caesar his due—his taxes, our obedience to his laws within our duties to God, our civic participation. But in giving Caesar his due now our hearts must always be inclined to a longing and a goal well beyond Caesar’s temporary crown; focused fiercely, permanently on the Crown of Heaven. The Pharisees hope to use this apparently split allegiance to force Jesus into a political-religious quagmire. They need for Jesus to be a madman or a traitor or a blasphemer, so they test him in their malicious hypocrisy, rigging the test to give them the result they hope for; and in getting the hoped-for answer, relieving them of any duty to preach his message, teach his word, or offer him their obedience as the Messiah promised by the prophets.

Rather than giving them what they hope for, Jesus says, in essence, “I am not who you want me to be.” Jesus is not a traitor or a blasphemer. Nor is he a revolutionary or an institutional cog. He is not a preacher of flaccid tolerance nor a fire-breathing demagogue. He is neither Democrat nor Republican; he is not Obama nor McCain. He is the Prince of Peace who comes with a death-dealing sword to deal death to our sin. He is the Lamb of God who comes with a scourge to beat the unfaithful faithful for their hypocrisy and out of his temple. He is the Final Judge who died for us, making us clean before the Father’s throne. He is the Lion of David’s House who gently shepherds, protects, and provides. He tells Isaiah: “I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.”

And no other is the LORD! Not the state, not a political party, not an institution, not a person or an idea or a theory. Nothing made can save us. Nothing passing can give us eternal life. If it can die, it cannot give Life. If it can change, it cannot impart perfection. If it can fail, it cannot gift us with goodness. That we want a man, a party, a system, or an idea to save us, to give us life, to grant us goodness is a sin as old as Eve’s yes to the serpent’s gift. Like the maliciously hypocritical Pharisees, don’t we often find ourselves testing Jesus to see who he will be for us today? Just poking him a bit to see if he will budge on a favorite issue or yield a bit on a favorite sin? Recently, I watched a youtube video of a Catholic rally for Prop 8 in CA. A woman approached the young men and screamed at them: “Jesus preached tolerance!” Since Prop 8 is designed to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, we can assume that the woman—shown in the video harassing the men—believes that the first-century Jewish rabbi, Jesus, would “tolerate” a marriage among a man, another man, and the first man’s sister. You are either tolerant or you’re not. Tolerance tolerates no intolerance.

Let’s conclude here with this: Jesus fails the Pharisee’s test. Turns out that he is not who they hope he is. He is not the traitor, the blasphemer, the arch-heretic they had hoped for. Neither is he the hippie-dippy feminist peacenik, nor the fiery-eyed God of Righteous Vengeance Come to Smite Our Enemies, nor the sagacious prophet with a stoical temper. He is the Judge, the Lamb, the Prince, the Child, the King, the Seed, the Vine, the Word, the Spirit. He is the LORD. And there is no other and no other is the LORD. 


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Pope Francis' First Message in English!


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Choose: life or death

Ss. John de Br├ębeuf and Isaac Jogues
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St Dominic Church, NOLA

Acknowledge Christ, and he will acknowledge you; deny him, and he will deny you. What's at stake in this choice btw acknowledging or denying Christ? Nothing less than our eternal lives. While we still roam around here on Earth, the stakes may not be eternal but they are no less dire. Choosing btw acknowledging Christ or denying him sets us on a razor's edge, carefully balancing our spiritual lives over a great chasm. Think in terms of light and darkness; purity and impurity; health and disease. Think in terms of good and evil; love and indifference; hope and despair. We are constantly being assaulted by the minions of our decadent culture to give up this silly idea that our choices are so black and white; that there are natural consequences to our actions; that we can know right from wrong. And there is some small truth here. Most of our daily choices aren't so clear-cut. Most of what we have to do to survive and thrive sorely tests our ability to distinguish good from evil. However, one choice—the cardinal choice—molds our hearts and minds into a holy pattern: acknowledge Christ or deny him.

This cardinal choice must be made every hour, every minute of the day, every day for as long as we live. Every choice we make, every decision we take is either an acknowledgment of Christ or a denial of Christ. Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No b/c the choice—every single time—is a choice btw Life and Death. Between life and death eternal. If you choose a life with Christ, there's no guarantee that the life you live here and now will be miraculously easier. In fact, just the opposite is true. Those who choose to live with Christ are promised anything but an easy life. Christ's command to love and his commission to preach his Good News to the nations guarantees a life lived under a sword, a life lived at the very edge of violence and persecution. Why? Because our public witness to God's mercy to sinners is poison to the body of the world, and the world will fight us like an infection. The Enemy hates forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope. He hates the light of Truth and will fight those who shine this light on his lies. When you choose to acknowledge Christ, you choose martyrdom. You choose to die—before you die—as a witness, as one who bears testimony to the saving power of God and loving sacrifice of Christ on his Cross.

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A Parable/Thought Experiment

Instead of working on this morning's homily. . .
A passenger jet carrying about 250 people is forced by a hurricane to crash land on a remote island.*

Most of the passengers and the flight crew safely evacuate to the beach to ride out the storm.

After a couple of days, the hurricane abates and three members of the flight crew climb the small mountain back to the crashed jet in an attempt to contact help with the cockpit radio.

The crew is gone for two days.  In the meantime, another hurricane hits the island.  When the three crew members fail to return after four days, a small party of passengers climb the mountain and discover that the storm has caused an avalanche and killed the three crew members.  The radio has been destroyed as well.

The passenger-rescue party find three notebooks bound together with a rubber-band and sealed in a heavy-duty plastic bag.  They take the notebooks back to the beach and begin trying to decipher the scribbled notes.  Soon, all agree that the crew members were taking notes on a proposed rescue plan.  But it is unclear whether they themselves were planning a possible rescue scenario, or if they were taking notes on a plan proposed via radio by authorities on the mainland.

The notes indicated that the stranded passengers and crew would have to undertake several arduous tasks in order for any rescue attempt to succeed.  In fact, these tasks would not only deplete their limited food and water reserves, but also place all of them in danger of injury and death.

Two groups quickly formed around two possible interpretations of the three notebooks.  One group, the Rescue Realists (RR), argue that the notes themselves indicate that the crew had been in contact with the mainland and that they should do everything necessary to complete the tasks in order to be rescued.

The Rescue Anti-Realists (RAR) argue that the notes indicate nothing more than a plan to be proposed by the crew to make sure that the stranded people worked together as a cohesive group in order to maintain civilized behavior and the hope of rescue.  Given the obvious tentative tone of the notes, the more dangerous tasks are interpreted as merely brainstorming suggestions rather than requirements to be met for rescue.

Since the radio had been destroyed, there was no viable means of verifying the RR interpretation.  However, the RR camp argues that to ignore the plan would be tantamount to suicide, so the whole group should immediately begin the tasks so as to maximize their chances of rescue.

The RAR argue that since there is no way of verifying the RR interpretation, it would be wiser to ignore those tasks that directly threaten their limited resources and focus only on those tasks that would keep the group together as a community until they were rescued, if they were rescued.

The following are givens:

1). There is no viable, external means of verifying either interpretation.

2). Both interpretations would work to keep the group together as a community.

3). Neither interpretation guarantees rescue, injury/death, or an unusual depletion of resources.  Though everyone agrees that the RR interpretation is more dangerous and likely to deplete supplies more quickly.   

Given all of this, which interpretative group would you join and why?

*This parable is adapted from one proposed by Paul Moser to explain the difference between theological realism and theological anti-realism.  He sees the difference as primarily one of epistemology, that is, what can we know about God and how?

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16 October 2013

Rep Gowdy Trounces Park Service Director

B.O.O.M!  (Remind me to never get on this guy's bad side. . .)


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New Evangelization = Old Evangelization

From a talk given by Archbishop Chaput

Some years ago Alasdair MacIntyre wrote that the “new dark ages [are] already upon us”–a darkness brought on not by religion, but by the vanity, moral confusion and failure of the Enlightenment. The key difference between the sixth century and our own, said McIntyre, is that this time “[the] barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this [fact] that constitutes part of our predicament.”

You don't have to look too far or all that closely to see that our postmodern cultural landscape is functionally neo-pagan, that is, nihilistic in a way that real Old School Pagans like Plato and Aristotle would find repulsive. 

Quite apart from the mistakes and sins of her own leaders, the Church in Europe in the years since the Enlightenment has faced constant pressure from revolutionary violence, intellectual contempt, ideological atheism, idolatry of the nation state, two disastrous world wars, and mass genocides. And Catholic attempts to hold on to the Church’s privileges have often made conflicts worse.

Today a new and even more effective atheism–the practical atheism of an advanced but morally empty liberal consumer culture–is pushing the Church to society’s margins. This, on a European continent that owes much of its identity and history to the Christian faith. And we can see some of the same trends now in Canada and the United States.

I wonder how many Catholics in the pews are functional atheists. . .not confessed atheists, of course, but that sort of Catholic for whom being Catholic makes no difference whatsoever in their daily lives. 

. . .We need to understand the language and master the tools of the modern world. Through them, with God’s help, we can do a better job of bringing Jesus Christ to our people, and our people to Jesus Christ.

But the main instrument of the new evangelization is the same as the old evangelization. It’s you and me. There’s no way around those words: Repent and believe in the gospel. The world will change only when you change, when we change, because hearts are won by personal witness. And we can’t share what we don’t have.

Read the whole thing. . .well worth your time and effort!
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15 October 2013

On clericalism and power

Clericalism is a mindset, an attitude, a perspective. It patronizes and denigrates those who disagree and uses ad hominem attacks to belittle. When a priest speaks disrespectfully to an elderly woman and embarrasses her publicly at Mass merely because she exercises her legitimate option (as defined by Rome) to kneel or genuflect at Communion time rather than just stand, that is clericalism. When the faithful are denied their legitimate option to receive Holy Communion on the tongue or confession behind a screen, that is clericalism. When women are ridiculed and scoffed at by priests for wearing chapel veils, which is their option, that is clericalism. When some of the faithful ask the pastor if the Extraordinary Form could be celebrated in their parish and the priest goes ballistic and insults them and calls them fanatical, schismatic rad-trads, that is clericalism. When priests who wear roman vestments and lace albs instead of burlap potato sacks and moo-moo albs are laughed at and slandered by gossip among their brother diocesan clergy, that is clericalism.

Clericalism is also nepotism. Not the kind where relatives are promoted but where ideologues and those who are philosophically and theologically ‘brothers’ take care of one another. When sycophants are rewarded with papal knighthood and are made monsignors for being blindly loyal to their Ordinary, that is clericalism. It is a cheap shot to attack a priest for his personal taste in vestments. What really counts is whether or nor Father preaches and teaches orthodox Catholic doctrine; does he celebrate a reverent Mass; is he living a chaste, honest, and virtuous life on the altar and off? 
Some of the most destructive clericalism I've ever witnessed was the product of "Spirit of Vatican Two" elitism, especially in all matters liturgical. 
Oddly enough, the most egregious clericalism I've ever encountered came from religious sisters. They were unstinting and unapologetic their use of institutional power to suppress dissent and shape the formation of clergy to their agenda.

And it is impossible to overestimate the prevalence and harm caused by Mean Girl Cliques among clergy and religious. Right now, these cliques tend to be dominated by Baby Boomer clergy/religious with modernist agendas. However, it won't be long before younger clergy/religious form their own cliques in order to defend themselves from their elders.

What lessons are our younger clergy/religious learning from the power plays of their elders? Easy: only power matters. Forget right/wrong, canonical/non-canonical, good/bad, tradition/innovation. When the rubber hits the ecclesial road, all that matters is: who has the power? 

I can tell you from my personal experience: this lesson is not lost on our younger guys and gals nor will it be ignored when they have the power.

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The Mass: a class on the text of the Roman Missal


The Mass: Line by Line

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Director of Homiletics, Notre Dame Seminary

A series of six one-hour classes on the Missal text of the Mass*

(We will read and discuss the text of the Mass, focusing on the theology of the Eucharist)

Starting Wednesday, Oct 16 at 7.00pm and meeting for the next five Wed's

4640 Canal Street
New Orleans, LA

 * Copies of the Missal text will be available


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14 October 2013

Feds Shutdown Military Mass

The Catholic priest who serves this community has been prohibited from even volunteering to celebrate Holy Mass without pay, and was told that if he violated that order, he could be subject to arrest. Protestant services continue to take place.  Only Catholic services have been shutdown.

NB. Only Catholic services are shutdown. . .NOT the Protestant services. This shows us who B.O. thinks the real enemy is.

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13 October 2013

The Devil ain't gonna like this!

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. . .

As one of my brother friars said, "The Devil will see this as a declaration of war."

Gird those loins, brothers and sisters. . .and get on your knees!

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The surest way to ruin your life. . .

28th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Anthony of Padua/Our Lady of the Rosary

Here’s the surest way to ruin your life: never say “thank you.” Live as if you are entitled to everything you have, everything you receive. Live as if you are responsible for your successes, your moments of greatness (large or small). Live as if you are self-sufficient, independent, in need of no help, in need of no one else. Clench you fist when a hand is offered. Close your heart when a hand reaches out. Recoil in horror when someone suggests that you could use assistance. Believe that you can do it all by yourself. When you fail there is no one else to blame. When you succeed there is no one else to credit. And when you die, you die alone. Never say “thank you” and watch your days unravel behind you like an ugly scarf snagged on a barbed-wire fence. A life of ingratitude is a life without grace, without gifts and it is a life unworthy of holiness. It is better to be a leper willing to ask God for healing than a well man who cannot/will not come to God with thanksgiving. Therefore, “in all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul writes to Timothy that he, Paul, is a criminal for the gospel, a man put in chains for preaching the Good News to Jews and Gentiles alike. And though he is suffering in chains for the sake of Christ and Christ’s body, “the word of God is not chained.” We can add here: “…and the word of God will never be chained.” Though courts, kings, governors, and states may strive to whip the Word with judicial rulings or bury it in paper prisons or poison it with the deadliest medicines, the Word will not be whipped, buried, or poisoned. In fact, Paul, noting the persistence of the Word for him, says, that because the word is not chained, “I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus…” The Word endures, carries on, lives always. And for this, we must give thanks. You must be the one healed leper in ten who returns to give God thanks, or Christ will wonder about you, “Where are the other nine?” 
Before asking how gratitude works for us spiritually, let’s take a moment to explore the possible reasons for being ungrateful. Why do we sometimes fail to give God thanks? First, we may not understand the “giftedness” or “givenness” of our lives, that is, we may not understand the fundamental animating principle of human life. My life, your life is a gift, meaning that that we exist at all is a present from God. God did not need us at the beginning of all thing. He does not need us now. And will never need us. Reality’s creation from nothing was a gratuitous, singular event, a wholly unnecessary one-time occurrence. The on-going presence of Something rather than Nothing is gratuitous as well. That we are still here is a gift. Second, the psychological motivations we need to accomplish anything often rely on the notion that we achieve our successes and that we fail in our failures. In other words, it seems that in order for us to do anything good at all we must believe that anything we do well results from personal talent and hard work. Why give thanks to someone not directly involved in the work of my success? Of course, this denies the first principle of creation: everything I am and everything I have is a gift from God. My talent, my drive to work hard, my need to succeed—all are gifts. Third, so delighted are we in our successes we often need to claim total credit in order to feel worthy of the success. If I am to succeed again, I have to come to the conclusion that I am solely responsible for that success. To do anything less is to risk a future failure. Finally, since the first bite of the apple in the garden we have been tempted to believe that we can become god w/o God. One god has no need to thank another god for anything. Our declaration of independence from the engines of divine perfection means that we think we are capable of saving ourselves. All we need for salvation is determination, the right doctrines, sufficient work, and a heart cold enough to reject any outside help offered—human or divine. We fail to give God thanks out of ignorance, pride, a cold heart, and vanity. 
Why should we give God thanks? Given what we already know about our creation—that we were created gratuitously—we can see that acknowledging our existence is first and foremost a matter of justice: we owe God our gratitude. Our thanks is due. Our thanks to God is also a matter of acknowledging the most basic truth of our lives: we are creatures created by a Creator. We are not random collections of chemical and electrical processes. We are not genetic productions accidentally generated by ideal cosmic and climatic conditions. We are beloved creatures, loved by our Creator. And as creatures loved first by God, we love back and give thanks for that love. The spiritual benefit, that is, the advantage that accrues to us when we are grateful to God is an increase in humility, an increase in our appreciation of our givenness, our total dependence on God as our Creator and Sustainer. Humility is the measure we use to determine the degree to which we are radically aware of our dependence on God. Your humility means that you know you are a gift given for no other reason than to love and be loved.

Here then is the surest way to ruin your life: fail daily to give thanks to God. Get up in the morning and go to bed at night as if you are entitled to everything you have, as if you were owed everything you have received. Get up in the morning and go to bed at night as if you alone achieved all of your successes, as if you orchestrated all your moments of greatness. Go day to day through your life utterly alone, in need of no one, in need of nothing but your own ingenuity and hard work. Grit your teeth when help is offered and say, “No, thank you.” Lock up your heart when a hand reaches out and say, “No thanks.” Shrink back in disgust at yourself and everyone around you when you fall and refuse help. Know in your ungrateful heart that you can do it all by yourself. 
Or, you can be trustworthy. You can be grateful and flourish in blessing. You can be the one healed leper who returns to thanks to God. You can be Naaman, who is healed in the Jordan, his flesh like the flesh of a little child. And you will be the one to hear Christ say, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Our Lord has revealed his saving power to the nations. Whatever you do, do not be among the nine ungrateful hearts who think that their healing is an accident. There is nothing accidental about the Cross, or Christ’s death for us on the Cross. He died on purpose, with a purpose. For us, he died knowingly, freely. And because of his love for us, we are free. Give thanks to God and make your life, this life right now, a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving!