01 February 2014

A spiritual colonscopy

NB. Not preaching tomorrow. . .so here's one from 2012:

Presentation of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

With the baby Jesus—just 40 days old—Joseph and Mary travel to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Since the birth of the Christ Child, the Blessed Mother has been considered legally “unclean,” that is, she has been deemed impure for the purpose of worship in the temple and restricted from touching anything considered sacred to the Lord. We must note here that her impurity is not moral or physical but legal. There is nothing morally or physically wrong about being a mother. The Law set this requirement—think of it as a 40 day fast—in order to emphasize the importance of offering a firstborn son to the Lord as a “first fruits sacrifice.” In the temple, Mary and Joseph meet Simeon, a devout and righteous man, and Anna, a prophetess. Both recognize Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and acclaim him as the Savior. With Christ's presentation in the temple, we recall Malachi's prophetic questions: “Who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears?” Are we prepared for the refiner's fire and the fuller's lye? 

Where Mary was required by the Law to seek legal purification by offering her first born son in the temple, and thereby regaining access to the holy of holies, we are granted access to God by the “once for all” sacrifice of her son on the Cross. Some thirty years after Mary and Joseph present the Christ Child in the temple, Jesus offers himself—as both priest and victim—for the salvation of the whole world. The Christ's birth and death as one of us brings all of us to the threshold of the heavenly temple and invites us to step into the holy of holies, to follow his excellent Way, and submit ourselves to what the prophet Malachi calls “refiner's fire,” “the fuller's lye.” To be purified of all impurities, to be bleached of every stain: so that we may be presented to the Lord as spotless sacrifices on His altar. What do we sacrifice? Nothing and everything. Nothing we have and nothing we are is ours to give. And everything we have and everything we are is given. Because Christ the Lamb precedes us to the altar, our sacrifices are his and his are ours. . .IF, if we follow his excellent Way and submit ourselves to a life- long fast in love: surrendering hatred, anger, vengeance, greed, lust, jealousy, and pride. Are you prepared for the refiner's fire and the fuller's lye? 

Please forgive me this image, but it is more than apt. Have you ever been prepared for a colonoscopy, or some other sort of gastrointestinal diagnostic procedure? The doctor can't do his best work if you are—shall we say?—“unclean.” It is necessary to spend some time purging the impurities from your system before a proper examination can be done. Think of your sins, all your vices—great and small alike—and imagine them poisoning your soul, imagine them clogging your spiritual system, restricting your access to the Lord's blessings. What we need is a way to flush those impurities, a way to wash away all those habits of mind and body that prevent us from absorbing the divine nutrients of God's graces. In the same way that we can be prepared physically for a medical exam, we can be prepared spiritually for the final exam of our soul. We call this the sacrament of confession. 

Mary endures 40 days of fasting from the temple and all things holy so that she might exult in presenting her son to the Lord. Because Christ presented himself to the Father on the Cross as a once-for-all sacrifice for us, we do not have to endure 40 days of fasting from the altar, or from His graces. We have immediate and unlimited access. There is no good reason for us live with the impurities that sicken us. Step into the refiner's fire and the fuller's lye. . .and be made clean!

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Still alive and kicking. . .

No, I haven't been kidnapped nor have I been raptured!

This last week has been. . .weird. . .for some reason. A minor sniffling cold has kept me feeling BLAH and insomnia hasn't made things any easier.

Overall, things are going quite well though. The New Orleans "ice storm" of 2014 threw a small wrench in the week's work, but the damage is entirely reparable. 

There's Something Else going on, and I can't put my finger on it. There's always a chance I've contracted some awful clich├ęd French philosophical dis-ease. Existential malaise? Foreboding dread? I dunno. 

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the NDS Super Bowl Party on Sunday night. I'm not a football fan, but dropping in on a good party can do wonders for one's ennui.

The 6.00pm Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary has been cancelled in lieu of the Super Bowl, so I'll be joining the guys at NDS for Mass. . .

I'm told that New Orleans folks are pulling for Denver since Seattle knocked the Saints out of the running. OK. I'm game.

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26 January 2014

Audio: To whom do you belong?

AUDIO FILE: "To whom do you belong?"

3rd Sunday OT


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To whom do you belong?

3rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Audio File

To whom do you belong? Who owns you? The answer most Americans would give is: “I belong to myself. I own me.” Our disastrously individualistic and narcissistic culture has trained us to think “Me First; Me Always.” If I belong to me then my needs and wants come first. I cannot serve two masters, so I serve myself. To reinforce my preferences, lest anyone threaten my comfortable delusion of self-centered independence, I surround myself with those who make the same choices I do. Who I am becomes the sum total of my race, social class, political views, religious beliefs, and whatever prejudices my fellow-choosers will tolerate. What now? Now I'm an over-educated, professional Catholic white boy from a working-class southern family who leans to the right politically. Do I live for those labels? Is that who I really am? Is that all I am? If so, then the Cross I claim to follow is emptied of its meaning. Paul points to the rivalries among the Corinthians and asks them, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” No. No. And no. I belong to Christ. And if you belong to Christ too, then your first choice is Christ and so is every choice you make after that. We serve CHRIST.
Some 800 yrs before Christ, the prophet Isaiah prophesied Israel's punishment for her disobedience: war, defeat, exile, and slavery. The Assyrian Empire invaded the Northern Kingdom and Israel all but disappeared. God's people had chosen to serve themselves rather than their Maker, and b/c they no longer served God, He allowed them to suffer the consequences of their sin. But like any good preacher, Isaiah preaches the wages of sin, but he doesn't stop there. He also preaches the inevitably victory of hope: “Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Why—after their disobedience—does God return to the land and share His great light? B/c even though we often forget our covenant with Him, He never forgets. Though we might fail to remember His promises; He never forgets. He never forgets b/c He created us so that His love could be given flesh and blood and freely given to one another as a sign of our salvation. However, that sign—His freely given love—cannot be a sign of anything if I belong to myself alone, if I only serve myself. We serve Christ. WE serve Christ.

Jesus couldn't be any clearer. He says to the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Our Lord doesn't invite these men to begin a journey of spiritual self-discovery, or to take up austere religious practices. He invites them to go out and fish for souls, to trawl for those who long to love God but cannot see or hear the mercy He offers them. Peter and Andrew drop their nets and follow Christ b/c his Word is a word of hope. “Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness. . .The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. . .” Peter and Andrew see in Christ the same great light that the people of Israel see at the end of their exile in Assyria. Not the light of their ascended consciousness. Not a specially designed, customized light shining just for me to see b/c I am especially holy or in-the-know. The light that shines to push back the darkness of sin and the anxiety of disobedience is the glory of God. The same light that shone Israel. That shone on Mary. That shone on Jesus at his baptism. The same light shines on all of us. “Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” 
God's great light shines on us all. Now what? Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Why do we need to repent of our sins if God's light is shining on us? It is precisely b/c God's light is shining on us that we need to repent. Sin is like a fireman's asbestos suit. It keeps the heat of God's mercy from touching us; it prevents us from seeing and hearing His Word; it blocks the cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit. We are given the freedom and power to remove that suit and rejoice in the conflagration that is God's love for us. And not only can each one of us remove the suit, we are also given the authority by Christ himself to proclaim the same freedom and power to any and everyone who will listen. “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The first net we must throw is the net of repentance. Repentance, confession, and absolution remove the spirit-blocking power of sin. When you proclaim the Good News of God's mercy to sinners you serve more than just yourself; you belong to more than just you alone: you belong to Christ, you serve Christ, and b/c you belong to him and serve him, you will be like Israel returning from exile and slavery, brimming with “abundant joy and great rejoicing.”

It is no easy task to believe that we belong to another, that we serve another. We are trained to see the world as a series of loosely connected choices made from a nearly infinite numbers of options. We buy personalized cell phones. We select quirky fashions to accentuate our individuality. We have it “our way” in restaurants and grocery stores. We even exercise a degree of entitled choosiness when it comes to where we attend Mass, jumping from parish to parish depending on the priest, the kind of liturgy we want, the music, the liturgical language. No matter how many choices I'm offered by my culture and my Church, it seems that I always want just one more option. Why? Because I've been trained to believe that I belong to me, that I own me. And my wants, my needs must always come first. But this is the path to death, spiritual death. The Cross stands before us as a tool of execution and redemption. We are redeemed by Christ's death on the Cross b/c he chose to die for us. Not me. Not you. But us. All of us. He bought us from the Cross and owns us b/c—like Peter and Andrew—we heard his Word and saw his Light, repented of our sins, and chose to follow him. And in choosing to follow him, we chose to be fishers of men. 
If you will to follow Christ, your life is no longer your own.

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