13 December 2013

Wise Works Vindicate

“. . .wisdom is vindicated by her works” (Matthew 11.19)

Ever practical and very much aware of our human frailties, Jesus dares us to do more than simply be wise. He dares us to work wisely, or to accomplish wise works. The phrase “wisdom is vindicated by her works” is comparable to “without works faith is dead.” While wisdom and faith are different virtues, the works that complete each virtue look very much alike. The difference might be that while good works show faith, wise works vindicate wisdom. Generally, we use “vindicate” to mean something like “to right a wrong.” However, an obsolete use of the word makes much more sense here: “to set free.” Consider: “wisdom is set free by her works,” or “wisdom is let loose by her works.” In the context of Jesus' remarks in Matthew, this rendition helps us to understand that the false charges being made against the Lord will be seen as false once his wisdom is set free/let loose by his wise works. The question is: who among his enemies then and among us even now have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the wisdom of his words and deeds?

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12 December 2013

Hear Elizabeth say to you. . .

NB. I partially chickened-out. The first part of this homily will be improvised.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

[Vocation story: encounter at the Altar of the Kings, National Cathedral in Mexico City, 1981.]

How do you hear God's Word spoken to you? When God sends word to you, when He calls out your name and picks you up to accomplish His will, how do you hear Him? Mary hears and sees an angel. Elizabeth hears and sees Mary. John, still in his mother's womb, leaps with joy at just being near the Lord. Mary, Elizabeth, John all respond viscerally to the Word; that is, not only are they moved spiritually—their souls lightened, hearts and minds brightened—their viscera, their guts are churned, stirred up. In the presence of the Word and at his approach, these servants of God are snared; they are toiled-up-in the embracing glory of their Savior. From her divine trap, Elizabeth prophesies to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” How do you hear the Word spoken to you? 
Now, it's highly unlikely that any of us will be visited by Gabriel, or run across a burning bush, or hear Christ speak to us from a crucifix. That these miraculous events are improbable shouldn't prevent us from waiting on the Word. Waiting requires patience; it requires silence. Waiting—especially waiting on the Word—also requires perseverance, a long, hard dedication to sticking with it, staying firmly balanced btw Doing the Will of the Lord Now and being prepared to leap into Doing His Will Next. But more than anything else, waiting on the Word demands that we surrender ourselves to the inevitable strangeness of God's ways; that is, if we decide beforehand how we will hear Him, we may never hear Him. Leave aside for the moment the need to forget what we think we ought to hear Him say and focus on the way we expect to hear. Mary, Elizabeth, John all hear and see the glory of their Savior in different ways. Abraham, Moses, Elijah hear and see the same Word spelled in radically different ways. What they all recognize in the Word is joy. Not simply an emotional elation or a fleeting thrill but the lightness and brightness, the pleasure of just being near the source of the Father's mercy. 

While you balance btw Now and What Comes Next, open yourself to joy, open yourself to the visceral punch of delight that our Lord will swing your way. Do this and you will hear Elizabeth say to you, “Blessed are you who believe that what is spoken to you by the Lord is fulfilled.”
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11 December 2013

Do you believe that His word is fulfilled?

NB. I will be the principal celebrant at tomorrow's NDS Mass. Right now I'm planning on preaching w/o a text. . .who knows, I may chicken out in the morning. Here's a OLG homily from 2011.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Just last week—on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception—we heard the archangel Gabriel declare to Mary, “Hail, full of grace! Blessed are you among women for you have found favor with God.” Tonight we read about Mary's visit to her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, a woman who's been barren her whole life and is now pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary greets her cousin, John leaps with joy in his mother's womb. And Elizabeth, in a fit of wonder and faith confirms the angel's greeting to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. . .Blessed are you [Mary] who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Do you, like Mary, believe that what is spoken to you by the Lord will be fulfilled? And if you believe, do you act in the world as one who has been spoken to by God? 

Elizabeth proclaims Mary “blessed” b/c she—Mary—believed what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. And b/c she believes His word, she submits her will to the will of God and now carries in her womb the Word made flesh. For centuries, almost since the very beginning, the Church has held our Blessed Mother up as the model of Christian service, the model of what it means to say Yes to the Father's invitation to allow His Word to take root in the human soul. If Mary is the model of the faithful Church; and the Church is the Body of Christ; and we are all members of that Body, then it follows that Mary's fiat—let it be done to me according to His word—is also our response to the Father's invitation to welcome and allow His Word to take root in each one of us. If we hear this invitation and raise our own fiat, then Elizabeth's praise of Mary is also her praise for us: “Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled.” Likewise, Mary's response to Elizabeth's praise is our response as well, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” 

Does your soul proclaim the Lord's greatness? Does your spirit rejoice in your Savior? We can all understand why Mary would sing out like this. She's been visited by an archangel. She's been given the Son of God as her child. She's been favored above all women and called blessed. She's got every reason to say that her soul proclaims God's greatness and that her spirit rejoices in her Savior. Why would any of us repeat her proclamation? We've not been visited by an angel or given birth to the Word made flesh or been called blessed and most favored. Oh, but we have. Not in the same way that Mary was, but we have most certainly been given the Word made flesh and blood in the sacrament. And we've heard His Word spoken many, many times at Mass. The question is: do we believe that His Word will be fulfilled? Do we act in the world in a way that demonstrates our belief? If we do, then our souls do proclaim the greatness of God and our spirits do rejoice in our Savior. If you don't, if you don't believe and act on His Word, then there is a way to get right with God. Confession, repentance, and penance: receiving in the sacrament of confession the forgiveness won for us by the Cross and Empty Tomb. 

Sin is the principal means used by the Enemy to prevent us from giving God his dutiful worship and from carrying out our vow to be Christs in the world. Plain and simple. Sin. Disobedience. The Enemy tempts, and we fall. But falling is never a reason to stay fallen. Get back up and receive all that Christ died to freely give you. God loves you and wants you to participate in His divine life. But He will not coerce you; He will not dominate or intimidate us into living with Him. He invites, seduces, exhorts, all but pleads. Confess, repent, and do penance so that you may follow Mary into blessedness. 

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09 December 2013

Mary's Dangerous Yes

NB. My very first I.C. homily. . .2005:
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Gen 3.9-15, 20; Eph 1.3-6, 11-12; Luke 1.26-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Madonna Hall, University of Dallas
It is the most dangerous announcement ever made: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” The angel Gabriel, sent by God to Mary, greets the virgin by telling her that she is most graced, wholly blessed, chosen, and attended by the Lord. Very, very dangerous. And Mary knew this: “But she was greatly troubled…” Greatly troubled?! Troubled…and wise. Mary pondered the angelic greeting with dread. She understood that this particular, unique grace picked her out of all God’s creatures. She understood that receiving an angel from the Lord meant a mission, a purpose beyond a mortal end, a life for her of singular graces, an honored life of doing the Father’s will for His glory. Dangerous? You bet!

Mary is being asked by the Lord to serve as bearer of the world’s salvation, the vessel of the Word, and the Mother of a nation redeemed. Saying yes to this places her at that moment in time, that instant of human history where the Divine takes on flesh, sets out toward selfless sacrifice, and heals us all. In her ministry to all creation, the virgin gives her body, her will, for the rest of us so that the Infinite Word might speak Itself as a Finite Word and gather us together into a single heart, a single mind, one voice in witness to the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord.[1] She is the mother of our salvation, the perfected vessel of our eternal healing. Mary is a preacher of the gospel, the first preacher of the Word—the most dangerous job there is.

When we took on the responsibility of bearing the Word to the world—when we became preachers—we took on the dangers of opposing all that the world worships as good. Speaking the Word of Truth against the Lie riles up the worst resentments and the most violent frustrations of those in the world who resent Mary’s Yes, who resent the gift of the Christ Child, and who turn their faces against his invitation to participate in the Divine Life. The danger for us here is twofold: 1) that we are punished as the causes of the resentment and frustration among those who reject the Word and 2) that we succumb to the temptation to see these people as hopeless, beyond reach, and deserving of temporal punishment. The first—that we are blamed—is becoming common enough. The second—our judgment of others—is scandalously common and unworthy of the virgin-child who made our own Yes possible.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is first a celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God as man. Mary’s dangerous Yes to God prepares the way of the Lord, make possible his advent in creation, and establishes her as the first preacher of the Word. Her clean conception in the womb of her mother points us unswervingly to God’s mercy, unswervingly to God’s invitation to bear His Word to the world with unyielding charity, steely will, and the mercy of truth.

We can meet the dangers of violent opposition and avoid the dangers of judging others by submitting ourselves in both cases to the ministry of the handmaid: “Lord, let your will be done in me according to your Word.”

[1] See Prayer, Hans Urs von Balthasar, 157.

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Recommended Books for Catholics

The second most often asked question to a Dominican friar -- the first being: how do you keep that white habit clean?! -- is: "Friar, can you recommend a good book on ___________?"

I usually have at least one book in mind for most occasions.

This morning I ran across an excellent list of recommended books on all things theological, philosophical, cultural, and scientific!

Check it out:  Recommended Books for Catholics

The science section doesn't include any recommendations from John Polkinghorne, my Ph.L. thesis topic. So, check him out too.

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08 December 2013

Make straight the path

2nd Sunday of Advent (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of Rosary, NOLA

What does John come to do? When he walks out of the wilderness—a wild man, a prophet of God—what is his mission? Isaiah tells us, A voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'” John is that voice. Eight-hundred years after Isaiah prophesied the coming of a desert-voice, John arrives to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Turn around. Go back. Get yourself right. The King is coming! Receive baptism with water to wash yourself clean and mark yourself repentant. Why? “Even now,” John preaches, “the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” What does John come to do? When he walks out of the wilderness—a wild man, a prophet of God—what is his mission? John's mission, our mission is to make straight the path for the Lord; to straighten the path to our hearts by repenting of our sins. Are you ready for the King's arrival? 
John warns us that when the King arrives, “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” That image—the fire of the Holy Spirit and the fire of judgment—should both comfort us and frighten us. John makes it clear that upon his arrival the King will sit in judgment: “He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” That's the frightening part b/c we have to ask ourselves: am I wheat, or am I chaff? The better question, the comforting question is: do I want to be wheat or chaff? Do I want to be gathered into the Lord's barn, or do I want to burn in a unquenchable fire? Asked that way, the answer seems obvious! “Well, duh, of course I want to be among the wheat that's gathered into the Lord's barn!” But we can say that and still think and speak and behave as if we long to be consumed in the fires of judgment. As primitive as this scenario may sound to our sophisticated 21st century ears, the fact is, God loves us and will honor our daily decisions to live apart from Him. And He will honor those decisions forever. Thus, John, fulfilling his mission as a prophet of repentance, calls us back to the Way, back to the path of righteousness so that our hearts and minds can faithfully follow Christ. The choice is ours to make. Repent and prepare the way of the Lord, or carry on in disobedience and prepare the way to an eternal death.

This is the choice that John gives the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to be baptized by him. He confronts them squarely with the discrepancy btw their desire for baptism and their words and deeds: “You brood of vipers!” he yells, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Now, it's not clear why these upstanding religious figures were coming to a disreputable wild man like John for baptism. Maybe they saw his popularity and hoped to cash in on it, or perhaps they saw an opportunity to siphon off some of his followers. Maybe they heard his preaching and sincerely desired to repent. Regardless, John doesn't receive them well. He accuses them of ignoring God's prophets of old and of living in hypocrisy. To remedy their offense, he demands that their behavior match their intention. He shouts at them: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” And just in case that they believe their status as descendents of Abraham will save them, he adds, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” From all this shouting we know two truths: first, good intentions w/o good behavior are useless; and second, who we are matters not at all when it comes to the final judgment. We are all judged according to our deeds.

This shouldn't worry us at all b/c bearing good fruit comes easy to the followers of Christ, right? I mean, as men and women imbued with the Holy Spirit in water and fire, we live and breath as members of the Body of Christ. So, we have nothing much to worry about. Unfortunately, we all know the disappointment of intending the good while doing evil. The idea that we can want one thing while working for its exact opposite doesn't surprise us, does it? It's an almost universal human failing. We want to grow in holiness, yet consistently make choices that keep us from using His gifts. We want to stay away from sin, yet we constantly put ourselves near temptation. It's almost as if we can see the perfection we desire but believe that it is beyond our reach, beyond our merely human means to acquire. Well, the perfection we long for is beyond our merely human means to acquire! So are the good works that John the Baptist tells us we must do as evidence of our repentance. Bearing the good fruits of the Holy Spirit doesn't come naturally to us b/c the gifts required to produce those good fruits are supernatural. When we bear good fruit we do so only b/c we are cooperating with the supernatural gifts given to us by God.
What are those gifts? Isaiah tells us when describing the promised Messiah, “. . .a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” Wisdom is the gift that allows us to know and love the things of God more than the things of man. Understanding perfects our ability to judge the truth against the lies of the world. Counsel makes it possible for us to distinguish right from wrong and to choose the right. The gift of strength empowers us to stand for what it is true, good, and beautiful against all assaults. The gift of knowledge gives us a glimpse of the divine in creation, revealing the hand of God in His works. Fear of the Lord is the gift of awe in His majesty, and to delight in that awe is gift of reverence. These gifts of the Holy Spirit perfect and strengthen the virtues we receive at baptism: faith, hope, and charity. Now, you may ask: Isaiah is describing the gifts that the Messiah will exhibit, what do those gifts have to do with us? They have everything to do with us b/c we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. What gifts he received from the Father, we receive as his brothers and sisters. He used these gifts to teach and preach the Good News of God's mercy. Now we follow him.

And we follow him best by heeding his herald, John. What does John come to do? When he walks out of the wilderness—a wild man, a prophet of God—what is his mission? He is charged with proclaiming a simple, prophetic message: “Repent and prepare the way of the Lord!” Are you ready? Is the path to your heart and mind straight and level? Are you prepared to received Christ the King? You have everything you could possibly need. You know and love God. You can tell the difference btw good and evil. You can judge rightly and chose wisely. You have the strength to resist temptation and fight the good fight. You can stand in awe of God and offer Him the worship that is His due. What do you think you might lack? What gift do you believe you still need? While we remain in this time of preparation, we can spend some time in sacrifice—make some of our time holy—by offering our weaknesses and failures to God. We can resolve to make better use of His freely given gifts. We can grow in humility and make ourselves better vessels to receive His Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repentance is the first step, but it is not the last. You must prepare His way, make straight and level the path to your heart and your mind. The King of Glory is coming.

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Vocations soaring in faithful dioceses and orders

Why are vocations to the priesthood soaring in some dioceses and religious orders?

It's NOT b/c those dioceses and orders are worshiping in the Temple of the Zeitgeist, or worse, polluting the faith with hokey New Age drivel.

It's NOT b/c those bishops and superiors have decided to make the ministerial priesthood invisible by discouraging clerical garb and habits.

It's NOT b/c those bishops and superiors have latched on to bogus theologies and ideologies designed to undermine the uniqueness of the faith.

It's NOT b/c psychotherapy and PC jargon have replaced virtue and religious formation.


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"I am only a man: I need visible signs."

The Second Sunday of Advent is our time to acknowledge and celebrate the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. . .in that spirit, here's a poem by the Polish-Lithuanian Catholic poet, Czeslaw Milosz from 1961.

Veni Creator

Come, Holy Spirit,   
bending or not bending the grasses,   
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,   
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow   
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.   
I am only a man: I need visible signs.   
I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.   
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church   
lifts its hand, only once, just once, for me.   
But I understand that signs must be human,   
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,   
not me—after all I have some decency—   
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.   
(Translated By Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky)

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