18 December 2013

What happens when we surrender. . .?

NB. I'll be traveling toward The Squirrels tomorrow morning. So, here's a Roman homily from Year B that I never got to preach. . .

4th Sunday of Advent: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8-14, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma
Unless Samuel Beckett is right, and we wait for Nothing when we wait on Godot, then when we wait, we wait in need. There is something or someone we do not know, something or someone we do not have; yet feel, yet know we must have; so, we wait. When we wait, we desire. Waiting is what the body does with unfilled desire. We sit here or walk there, or stand, leaning against someone stronger or more patient, perched right on the edge of bounding up in mock surprise to shout, “Finally!” Exasperated, or relieved in anger. You are here. Finally! I have you. But it is too soon yet to claim victory, to claim our prize for patient waiting. Unlike Estragon and his philosophical friend, Vladmir, both waiting for Godot, our advent clock has many more ticks and tocks before the final gift is dropped, before our longest longing is eased, and our waiting in hope is rewarded with the birth of the Word into the world. What we have to wait with today is Mary’s surrender, the end of her anticipation as she answers the archangel’s call to be the ark of the Lord, His tent in flesh: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” If and when, in our waiting and in our desiring, if and when we surrender, what happens?

This week of our long wait begins a headlong fall into the celebration of the birth of the Word into the world. In just one week, we sit up and notice one more time that hope is born for us; faith is pushed out from eternity and into our lives; love is gifted with a body, a mind, a soul for our sakes. In just one week, the one John the desert prophet promised arrives and begins his thirty-three year presence to those who have waited for centuries. But today, this last Sunday of our waiting, we party with the angels as they and we hear a young Jewish woman, confronted with a choice by the archangel Gabriel, we all hear her choose life—his, hers, ours, and the world’s. We all hear her choose to be the mother of God, the God- Bearer. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Look! I serve the Lord. Let His will be for me as you say it is.

What would happen to your life if, every morning from now on, you awake up and say aloud, “I serve the Lord. Let His will be mine.” First, understand that this is a prayer of priestly sacrifice. All the elements of sacrifice are present in that one prayer: you are a priest offering yourself as victim to a loving God on the altar of your day. Second, once sacrificed with this prayer, this act of human will, you belong body and soul to He Who made you. He made you and his love holds you in being as His creation. Your prayer of sacrifice is an act of gratitude, of giving thanks. Third, if you will do His will you will expend your day in His service as His handmaid, his servant. Every thought you have, every act you do, every passion you feel has already been given over to the fulfillment of His will. Fourth, His will for all His servants is to love Him, love ourselves, and love our neighbors. We are able to love, that is, we are gifted with the capacity for love, to love in virtue of our creation by Love Himself. He loved us first so that we might love. Lastly, as His willing priests, our lives are made new again, reconstituted from the smallest cell out, gifted with the newest possible life available, the life of His Son. We are made Christ for others. We are the walking Word, the talking Word, the feeling, doing, working Word—priests forever now in an entirely sacrificial life of becoming perfectly His will in the flesh.

This young Jewish woman, given a choice by Gabriel, says YES to His will for her, and becomes the first Christian priest and prophet, the template from whom all of us as future priests and prophets will be pressed out. On the cross, dying for our sakes, the Lord himself follows his mother in saying yes. Abandoned by his friends, betrayed by one he loves, despairing, seemingly lost to pain and death, and believing himself to have been forsaken to his enemies, our Lord will cry out to His Father, “Yes! I will all that you will!” His life of perpetual sacrifice begins. This is what we long for. This is what we desire, what we need. Though we are constantly deflected and distracted in our priestly obligations to be love and to love others, we nonetheless know and feel the ineffable hollowness of a life that refuses to love, that wills not to be one for another.

Advent is one long Mass of Thanksgiving and Praise, a month-long prayer of rejoicing and sacrifice as we turn away from sin and toward our perfection in Christ. What must we do? Unclench your fist. Unlock your heart. Fling open wide your mind. Make straight the path of the Lord to your very existence. Say YES! And join Christ at the altar as priest and victim. He is coming. He has come. He will come again. Wait. Need. Desire. And the flood of God as the Gift of Love Himself will overwhelm you and make you Christ.

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15 December 2013

Make your heart firm by rejoicing

3rd Sunday of Advent/Gaudete Sunday (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

As a newly oiled priest, I served in campus ministry at the University of Dallas. Our office in the student union was always roiling with activity. During the Advent season, which arrives just before the end of the semester and finals week, the liturgical energy of the office was always focused on Christmas. Christmas music. Christmas decorations. Christmas chatter. On occasion, frustrated with such blatant liturgical incorrectness, I would growl something anti-Christmas from my office-cave and remind everyone that we were in Advent not Christmas. The students would smile indulgently; murmur, “Yes, Father, we know,” and go right back to their Christmasy chatter. I become known as The Advent Nazi, or Friar Grinch. The only support afforded me in my lonely push to keep Christmas out of Advent was James' letter “to the twelve tribes in the dispersion,” where the apostle urges his Jewish-Christian community: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” All of Advent is about patiently waiting for the birth of Christ. Gaudete Sunday is all about rejoicing, and rejoicing never waits!

So, why do we celebrate Gaudete Sunday during Advent? Three words: joy, expectation, revelation. Like Laetare Sunday during Lent, Gaudete Sunday breaks the fast of the season, giving us a peek at the coming revelation of the Incarnation. These “times off” were more welcomed in ages past. Fasting and abstinence were a bit more severe and a Sunday spent partying a week before Christmas and Easter served to relieve the burden of penance. Nowadays, we jump from Thanksgiving straight to Christmas without much of anything in between. This is an old complaint among us Advent Nazis, one that falls on ears deafened by hypnotizing muzaked carols and the cha-ching of the cash register. Those of us who push Advent as its own season usually fail in our mission, managing only to foist upon Christmas-happy Catholics modest concessions. I'm told again and again, “Stop being Father Grinch, Father!” And with great pastoral sensitivity and an ear to the popular mood, I usually just release an exasperated sigh and do my best to preach that without a sense of expectation, waiting is useless to our growth in holiness; without a sense of the hidden, revelation has nothing to reveal; and without a little holy fear, joy is just a mood-stabilizer for the bubble-headed
Properly understood then, Gaudete Sunday is more than just a peek at the holiday to come; it is a expectant-peek into the unveiling of our joy in Christ. We re-joice. We en-joy. We can be joy-ful. Where do we find joy? Why do find joy in this but not that? Why aren't we gladden by all that God has made? Why isn't everyone joyful? St. Thomas gives us an important (if somewhat dry) insight: “[. . .] joy is caused by love, either through the presence of the thing loved, or because the proper good of the thing loved existed and endures in it [. . .] Hence joy is not a virtue distinct from charity, but an act, or effect, of charity”(ST II-II 28.1, 4). Joy is an effect of love. Love causes joy. Where there is no love, there can be no joy. This may sound simple enough, but how often have you heard joy explicitly linked to the virtue of charity? Don't we usually think of being joyful, as a temporary emotional spike in an otherwise hum-drum existence? We move along the day in a comfortable flat-line until something happens to us that lifts our spirit, bumps the happy meter up a peg or two. Then the line goes flat again, waiting for the next spike, for the next jump to excite the bored soul. 
This waiting for another spike in joy is not what the Lord has in mind when tells us that he has come so that our “joy may be complete.” Complete joy is not intermittent joy, or joy-for-some-time-in-the-future. Complete joy is perfected joy, all-the-time-joy. This doesn't mean that we're supposed to be walking around with idiot grins on our faces, or leaping about like squirrels on speed. Remember: joy is caused by love. And, as followers of Christ, we all know that loving God, others, and self is the First Commandment. Being joyful then is a necessary corollary to this command, its natural effect. If Thomas is right—and, of course, he is—we can be perfectly joyful b/c the “presence of the thing loved” (i.e., God) is guaranteed. He is with us always. Even during Advent, while we wait for his arrival, he is with us. When James writes, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord,” he knows that Christ never left and will come again. How is our joy made perfect? By the perfect presence of the one we love. Our waiting in Advent is practice; that is, a rehearsal meant to heighten our anticipation for the renewal of creation, the renewal that both Isaiah and Jesus prophesy as the mark of God's favor.

That renewal goes well beyond my renewal, your renewal, and the renewal of the entire human race. Though we are privileged in many ways as creatures created in His image and likeness, God's favor is universal, repairing every deficiency; healing every wound; and making straight the crooked paths to His righteousness. Isaiah sees the land itself rejoicing at the Lord's return: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” When John's disciples ask Jesus about his ministry, Jesus replies, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. . .” In the presence of God, nothing broken, thrown away, disparaged, or lost remains unclaimed; no one hurt, hungry, poor, or lonely remains untended. There is nothing to fear, nothing worth fearing. Therefore, Isaiah says, “Strengthen your feeble hands, steady your weak knees, encourage those with frightened hearts: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God! He comes with vindication; with divine justice He comes to save you.” 
And save you He will, if you will to be saved. Ask to be saved and be patient. Wait upon the Lord. James writes, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient.” How does the farmer wait on the rain? He does everything necessary before the rain arrives, everything necessary so that the rain can do its best work for his benefit. The farmer's waiting is never merely passive. He waits, but he works while he waits. James says, “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” That's our work while we wait: making our hearts firm. . .not hard but firm. A firm heart never faints in fear, or flutters with impatience, or races with undue excitement. A firm heart beats with steady, consistent joy in the loving presence of God; a firm heart is always pointed toward the Lord and never forgets the Way of righteousness. Waiting—especially waiting upon the Lord—is good exercise for the heart. We wait for a revelation at Christmas, the unveiling of the Christ Child, Emmanuel. Tonight, we rejoice b/c he is with us even now. We rejoice b/c he arrives. . .again. And our renewal, the renewal of all of creation is at hand! “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return. . .crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, and sorrow and mourning will flee.”

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Procrastination Music, or Sing Me Another Nap

My taste in music is a lot like my taste in movies. . .Kinda Redneck. 

I don't buy CD's or download mp3's. Mostly, I just listen to standard urban radio and that means Top 40 stuff.

If I'm reading, I will listen to something incredibly pretentious like Japanese lutes or Russian Orthodox chant.

I do like some alternative music, but so much of it has passed me by since I stopped paying attention.  Past favs: The Smiths, Sonic Youth, New Order.

In an effort to catch-up I surfed around YouTube (instead of grading papers, composing spring semester syllabi, or writing a Gaudete Sunday homily) and found something I really like.

This link will take you to a music mix-up that features songs from 20+ contemporary groups that fall roughly into what's being called "post-rock."

The music is ambient and somewhat unsettling at times. Lots of piano, violins, soft vocals, etc. 

One of the bands I particularly like is Mogwai, a group out of Glascow. 

NB. When I listen to the music mix-up linked above, I minimize the YouTube screen and just listen. . .so, the vids that accompany the music could be inappropriate or offensive in some way. I've never seen them.

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