15 February 2014

Lenten Spiritual Reading 2014

Lent is fast approaching and the usual emails/comments are coming in asking for suggestions for spiritual reading.

This year I am recommending Pope Benedict XVI's exhortation on Scripture titled, Verbum Domini.  You can buy a copy of the book here

This 2010 exhortation from our Pope Emeritus proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is a master of biblical theology. We use this text in a number of classes at NDS.

Below is a thematic summary of the book from Carl Olson, "A Symphony of the Word."

Twelve Key Themes in Verbum Domini

Called to share in divine life: It is striking that the opening paragraphs of each major section contains a reference to God's invitation for man to share in the divine life. At the heart of that divine life, Benedict notes, "there is communion, there is absolute gift. .... God makes himself known to us as a mystery of infinite love in which the Father eternally utters his Word in the Holy Spirit. Consequently the Word, who from the beginning is with God and is God, reveals God himself in the dialogue of love between the divine persons, and invites us to share in that love" (par. 6; cf. par. 9). This truth is presented even more strongly at the start of the second section: "Those who believe, that is to say, those who live the obedience of faith, are 'born of God' ( Jn 1:13) and made sharers in the divine life: sons in the Son (cf. Gal 4:5-6; Rom 8:14-17)" (par. 50). And, from the third section: "The word of God has bestowed upon us the divine life which transfigures the face of the earth, making all things new (cf. Rev 21:5)" (par 91).

Divine dialogue: God has initiated dialogue with man because of his love for him. As we've already seen, this is because the Triune God is a God of "dialogue"; that is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are continually speaking to one another in perfect, self-giving love. "In this vision every man and woman appears as someone to whom the word speaks, challenges and calls to enter this dialogue of love through a free response. Each of us is thus enabled by God to hear and respond to his word. We were created in the word and we live in the word; we cannot understand ourselves unless we are open to this dialogue" (par. 22).

Incarnation and Christology: At the heart of this divine dialogue is "the heart of the world" (par 83), the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. "God's word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God" (par. 7). The Christian faith "is not a 'religion of the book': Christianity is the 'religion of the word of God', not of 'a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word'" (par. 7). Benedict writes of a "Christology of the word" and reflects at length on the meaning of the communication of the eternal Word into time and space: "His unique and singular history is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity" (par. 11).

Encounter and relationship: The words "encounter" and "encountering" appear over forty times in Verbum Domini; they summarize, in many ways, the core of Benedict's explanation of the relationships between God and man and man and the Word of God. Quoting from his 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Benedict states that "being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction" (par. 11). And: "The whole history of salvation progressively demonstrates this profound bond between the word of God and the faith which arises from an encounter with Christ. Faith thus takes shape as an encounter with a person to whom we entrust our whole life" (par. 25).

Similarly, the word "relationship" appears over sixty times, often to express in some way the intimate communion given by God through Jesus Christ and Scripture: "The mystery of the Covenant expresses this relationship between God who calls man with his word, and man who responds, albeit making clear that it is not a matter of a meeting of two peers; what we call the Old and New Covenant is not a contract between two equal parties, but a pure gift of God" (par. 22), and, "The relationship between Christ, the Word of the Father, and the Church cannot be fully understood in terms of a mere past event; rather, it is a living relationship which each member of the faithful is personally called to enter into" (par. 51).

[. . .]

Read the whole thing along with the papal exhortation. Well worth your time.
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What are we getting ourselves into?!

NB. Below are the notes I used in a recent lecture to my preaching students at NDS.

Homiletics I: Preachers, what are you getting yourselves into?

I. Influences on our people. . .

. . .lose of catholicity and triumph of the local
. . .ideology of “multiculturalism” (entitled enclaves of personal preferences)
. . .secular culture = absence of the transcendent, scientism (no truth, no center, no   structure)
. . .inadequate catechesis before and after baptism (focus on personal experience and emotions)

II. Catholics are indifferent to or disaffected with the Church’s teaching. . .

. . .a spirit of individualism, entitlement → “cafeteria Catholicism”
. . .decline of the “common good”
. . .the sexual abuse scandals → undermines moral authority, exemplifies clericalism
. . .the sharp polarities in our political life → mirrored in our ecclesial lives
. . .constant dissent from clergy, religious, and special-interest groups

III. Dominance of relativism makes preaching more difficult. . .
perspectivism: "From my perspective, X is right/wrong."

relativism: "You have your perspective on X and I have mine. There's no way to tell which perspective of X is really true."

nihilism: "Since there's no way to know whose perspective on X is really 'true,' we can conclude that there is no such thing as 'truth.' about X."

eliminativism: "If there is no 'truth' about X, then there's no reason to believe that there is any such thing as 'truth' about anything at all."

triumph of the will: "Your claim that there is such a thing as 'truth' is just an exercise of your power."

IV. Materialism/consumerism encourages. . .

. . .the erosion of our spiritual lives → focus on earthly treasure and security
. . .an indifference/hostility to the poor → “I got mine!”
. . .violations of human dignity: racism, violence → competition against the Other
. . .a decline in youth participation in the Church → more susceptible to secular culture
. . .anxiety about “success” and apathy toward holiness

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Disputation. . .Dominican Style! (Updated)

NB. A repost that explains the Old School Dominican style of disputation. . . 

UPDATE: If you want to know about this style of argument, here's a link to the Monastic Theological Studies page of the Lufkin OP nuns in TX. Frankly, seeing the energy and determination of these sisters, I'd just stipulate their victory and become a Benedictine! I'll be teaching in the MTS program this summer in Summit, NJ.

In what is probably a doomed effort to tame my intemperate tongue and fiery typing-fingers,* I have set myself on a course of re-learning and practicing the ancient tradition of Dominican disputation.

So, more for my benefit than your enjoyment, I present the Dominican method of disputation (in breve). . .

Early Dominican disputation was done in public, usually in universities for the benefit of students learning the crafts of philosophy and theology. The Master (professor) would give a lecture on some topic and then take questions from the students and other Masters. Once asked, the question would be answered first with a list of objections to the Master's real answer. So, if the Master's real answer was "Yes," he would begin by stating what all the "No" answers would seem to be. These are presented in the Summa theologiae as the "videtur" or "it would seem that."

After this, the Master would provide a sed contra, or a "to the contrary," a general answer to the objections that served to lay the foundation for his own answer to the original question. The sed contra was usually a quotation from scripture, a well-respected theologian/philosopher, or saint that directly or indirectly touched on the question.

Once the sed contra is announced, the Master would answer with a respondeo, the "I respond that." Here he pulls on the foundational principles taught to his students, employing basic logic, metaphysics, common sense, and additional authoritative sources.

In the respondeo, the Master would use a peculiarly scholastic technique in arguing his point. Summarized the technique is: "Never deny, rarely affirm, always distinguish." Thus, the scholastics' reputation for "multiplying distinctions."

After the respondeo, the Master would then apply his answer to each objection (the videtur) in a reply and show why each was incorrect given the sed contra and the logic of the respondeo.

Break down of the "Never deny, rarely affirm, always distinguish"

Never deny: this principle presupposes charity in requiring the responder to take seriously the objections made to any answer he might give; that is, by never outright denying a conclusion, the Master presumes the good will of the objector and averts any attacks on the person. By disallowing the outright denial of an opponent's premise or conclusion, the 'never deny' pushes us in charity to recognize that even an assertion erroneous on the whole may contain some partial truth. The next two steps in the method assure us of ferreting out whatever truth might be found error. (NB. This technique also tends to kill in its cradle the all-too-often virulent disease we call "flaming").

Rarely affirm: this principle frees the Master from the traps in the objections that might inexorably lead him to conclude that the objection is correct. It also serves to push the argument beyond merely polite agreement and force the debaters to explore areas of disagreement that could lead to a better answer.

Always distinguish: this principle allows the Master to accomplish the first two principles while still giving him plenty of room to disagree with the objections. By requiring the Master to carefully parse his words, this step in the argument recognizes the limits of language and logic when discussing any truth and acknowledges that there is some hope of finding better and better definitions.

So, in practice, you will hear those who use this method say things like, "If by X, you mean Y, then X" or "I would distinguish between X and Y" or "You are right to say X, but X does not necessarily entail Y" and so on. The goal is to parse proper distinctions with charity until there is some clarity with regard to the use of terms and their place in the argument.

I should add here another good principle of logic: "Where there is no difference, there can be no distinction;" that is, any distinction between X and Y must be based on a real difference between X and Y. For example, all teachers have heard some version of the following: "But I didn't plagiarize my paper, I just borrowed my roommate's paper and put my name on it."

No difference, no distinction.

* And it proved to be a doomed effort. . .a commenter on the original post dragged out the sex abuse scandal to smear the Church and my response was. . .ahem. . .less-than-Dominican. Which goes to show you that knowing-how is not the same as doing.
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14 February 2014

Preaching the New Evangelization

I gave a formation conference to the second and third theologians at NDS this morning.

Title: Preaching and the New Evangelization.

If you've been wondering what all the fuss is about the N.E., read this article by Msgr. Michael Hull. 

We, Christians and Catholics, want to see the Gospel renewed in our day. We want all humanity to enjoy the same relationship with Jesus the Christ that is ours. Benedict puts it well:  “As I stated in my first encyclical, Deus caritas est: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ (no. 1). Likewise, at the root of all evangelization lies not a human plan of expansion, but rather the desire to share the inestimable gift that God has wished to give us, making us sharers in his own life.”

Essentially, the N.E. is about evangelizing the baptized. We've lost a generation or two to Rainbows & Butterflies Catechesis, Pabulum Preaching, and Protestantized Pan-sacramentalism.

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13 February 2014


From my Wish List someone bought three copies of Renewal: How a New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church on Jan 6th. 


If you bought one of these for me, it never arrived.  If you didn't buy one of these three for me, please let me know so I can put the book back on the List.




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Reformatting the Blog

A faithful HA reader from Summit, NJ sent me a letter -- a REAL snail mail letter -- asking me to reformat the blog so that the text would "wrap."

I saw nothing in the Settings that allow this to occur. . .whatever "this" is.

I've shrunk the margins to their default size. . .maybe that will cure the problem.

Regardless, thanks Ann of Summit for the letter and for the suggestion!


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09 February 2014

Audio File: homily for 5th Sun OT

AUDIO FILE for 5th Sunday of OT: Stay Salty and Bright!


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Stay salty and bright!

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA


Jesus states the obvious, “A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” It might be difficult to reach. Obscured by clouds on occasion. Or nearly impregnable to a siege. But it can't be hidden. It sits there among the rocks and trees for all to see. Looking up, for all to see. What do we see when we look at the city? Walls, gates, traffic, thriving markets, lots of people. We might see security, comfort. Or crime and filth. Crowded streets and tenements. Strangers, foreigners, friends. Whatever we see, we see b/c the city cannot be hidden. Its presence dominates, overwhelms – a living thing made from dead stone. Jesus tells us that the mountaintop city cannot be hidden nor can our good works. Like that city, our works for the greater glory of God must be monumental, stone-solid, unavoidable to even the most disinterested tourist. Like that city, our witness to the Father's mercy must be visible to the countryside from miles away; a landmark for both pilgrims and sinners alike. If not, then we are “no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Do your words and deeds help to build God's unhideable city on the hill?

Jesus' admonition to his disciples – stay salty and don't hide your light – is more than a moral lesson or a quick tip for pastoral effectiveness. Staying salty and bright is The Way that we followers of Christ work out our salvation and lead others to theirs. This is why Jesus says that tasteless salt is to be thrown out and trampled on. Salt that cannot season has lost its purpose, lost its usefulness and keeping it around is a sentimental waste of space. What use is dry water or cold fire? What use is a light hidden under a basket? If it can't shine and show the way to the lost, then it's a waste. Our words and deeds spoken and done for the greater glory of God are to be spoken and done in the brightness of the day, in the direct light of the noonday sun for all to see. Not hidden. Not done in darkness. Not whispered or mumbled. But boldly, loudly spoken and done without hesitation or ambiguity, without recourse to the “sublimity of words” or the seductions of worldly wisdom. We work out our salvation and bring others to theirs by speaking and acting plainly for the glory of God so that the Good News of His mercy shines out from that unhideable city on the hill.

What does “speaking and acting plainly for the glory of God” mean in 2014 A.D.? It means exactly what it meant in 56 A.D. when Paul confesses to the Corinthians that he was “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” To know nothing but Christ crucified means to frame your mind, your heart, and your soul with the undeniable and enduring truth that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for your salvation and rose from the dead so that you too might be raised on the last day. To know nothing but Christ crucified means that your every act, every word, every thought is motivated by nothing else but the compulsive drive to behave, speak, and think according to the Good News Christ came among us to preach. To know nothing but Christ crucified means that you accept as your only mission the imperative to bear witness to all so that all might find their peace in Christ. Is this difficult task? Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling. . .” If Paul was weak, afraid, and trembling while bearing witness to his brothers and sisters, then we should expect nothing less for ourselves as we bear witness to Christ in a world ruled by the Enemy. Thus, Jesus tells us to stay salty and bright.

How do we do that? How do we stay salty and bright while bearing witness to the Good News? There's a much overused word that we Christians need to reclaim from our corrupted culture. That word is “authenticity.” Being authentic means to be real, to be honest, transparent. Being authentic invokes truthfulness, goodness, and beauty. We want authentic art work, authentic music, authentic liturgy. But the definition we want here is “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.” Christ is the original. We are charged with reproducing his essential features so that our witness is “authentic.” No fakes. No forgeries. No knockoffs. Just the real deal, full-fat, 100% guaranteed, 24kt gold Gospel witness. This means – at minimum – that we believe the Gospel and live that belief. We lose our saltiness and our brightness when we allow the wisdom of the world creep into our hearts and minds. It starts small. Payback for an insult. Tit for tat. Waiting to forgive until an apology is forthcoming. Praying and giving to be seen. Failing to give God thanks for His blessings. Small things peck away at our authenticity until there's nothing left but our broken word. Reproduce the original and your authenticity will never be in doubt. 
Let's talk practically. First, the best witness is a credible witness, and nothing helps one's credibility more than a clear conscience. Go to confession! Second, a good witness will have no daylight shining btw her words and deeds: hypocrisy kills credibility, say and do what Christ said and did. Third, a good witness will keep the whole truth in mind and not just the facts. Facts only make sense within the larger truth. Fourth, a good witness will speak and behave plainly, without pretense or any effort at drawing attention to himself. Christ crucified is the object of our testimony not our needy egos. Fifth, a good witness loves, hopes, and trusts. She loves God and His creatures; hopes in the resurrection and life eternal; and trusts that God's promises have been fulfilled. Her love, hope, and trust will be painfully evident in her words and deeds. And finally, a good witness knows that he is never alone in bearing witness. Weakness, fear, and trembling might come along for the ride, but so does the Holy Spirit, the company of saints, the Church on earth, and every witness-bearing soul who bears witness to God's mercy. If you are free in Christ, then you are free to speak and act in his name for your salvation and the salvation of the world. 
That unhideable city on the hill sits there as a landmark, a point of destination. It's a place we travel toward in hopes of food, shelter, fellowship. Our good works, our good witness serves the same purpose. Right where you are – at home, school, work, out shopping – right there is someone watching, waiting to hear that their sins are forgiven and that there is a place for them among the saints. By your words and deeds show them – show everyone – what it's like to be freed by Christ!

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3 Types of Destitution (Revised)

From Pope Francis' Lenten exhortation, Evangelical Poverty in Our Time:


In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.

Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual.

Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.

No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person - is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. 

This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.*

* NB. I inadvertently left out this paragraph in the original post. 

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