17 May 2014

No troubled hearts. . .

NB. A homily I need right now. . .do not let your hearts be troubled.
5th Sunday of Easter (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Audio File

The king of Corinth was a clever man. He was also prideful and lived to lie to friend and foe alike. His pride and deceitfulness kept him in power and flush with gold. When given the chance, he would divulge an ally's secrets to a mutual enemy and reap the rewards of betrayal. It was only a matter of time before his hubris compelled him to expose the follies of Zeus and gamble his cleverness against the anger of a god. One day, believing himself equal to the gods, the king told the river god, Asopus, one of Zeus' secrets in exchange for a fresh water spring in his city. As punishment, Zeus ordered Death to chain the king in the Abyss. The king, ever-clever, tricked Death and escaped. When the king died, his wife did not observe the proper burial rites, so he ended up in Hades only to escape and return to his wife to scold her for being disrespectful. Fed up with the king's impertinence, Zeus ordered his spirit to bear an eternal burden. He was condemned to push a boulder up a hill. When he nearly reached the top of the hill with the boulder, it would escape his grasp and roll to the bottom. The king would have to begin again. . .for eternity. The king's name was Sisyphus. To this day, we use his name to describe an absurd task, or a futile burden that leads to despair. For some, Sisyphus and his fate serve as a warning against pride and deceit. To others, he's an absurd hero, a foolish solider in a war against tyrants. Who is he for the followers of Christ? Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” But how often do we lovers of Christ wallow in our burdens and make our troubles badges of honor?

Because he was a fool to challenge Zeus and because his punishment seems so familiar, so “right,” Sisyphus is a popular subject in modern poetry. The American poet, Stephen Dunn, in a series of poems starring our anti-hero, wonders what Sisyphus would do if he were forgiven his sins, relieved of his ridiculous task. In a poem titled, “Sisyphus and the Sudden Lightness,” Dunn gives us the man mysteriously absolved of his debt to Zeus and wandering the streets in search of a purpose. Dunn writes, Sisyphus, of course, was worried;/ he'd come to depend on his burden,/wasn't sure who he was without it. He peels an orange; pets a dog, keeps moving forward b/c he is afraid/of the consequences of standing still.//He no longer felt inclined to smile. Over time, Sisyphus realizes that he is no longer being punished b/c the gods have disappeared. He hasn't been forgiven; he's been abandoned. So, out of anger or frustration or maybe defiance, He dared to raise his fist to the sky./Nothing, gloriously, happened.//Then a different terror overtook him. Sisyphus has been his punishment for centuries. Now that the boulder and the hill no longer imprison him, who is he? The gods are gone and the history of his punishment is more ridiculous, more meaningless than ever.

Sisyphus' heart is troubled. He has been abandoned by his gods, and he no longer knows who or what he is. He was condemned to an eternity of futile labor. Had he come to enjoy that boulder and the hill? Had he come to believe that his punishment was not only well-deserved but actually beneficial to his soul? As followers of Christ, what would we tell him about pride and its punishment? About lying and the consequences of defying God? Would we tell him that he got what he deserved and that he should shoulder his burden w/o complaint? If so, then we have to ask ourselves: Do we see ourselves in Sisyphus, wallowing in our burdens, making our troubled hearts badges of honor? Are we freed men and women, liberated children of a loving God; or, are we prisoners to our self-selected and self-imposed punishments? It might not be polite to say or pleasant to believe, but those of us who lay claim to the kingdom of God too often see ourselves as lost, abandoned; forsaken and punished for our sins. Sometimes we see this so intensely, believe it so fervently that we become our burdens; we transform ourselves from forgiven souls with an occasionally troubled heart into constantly troubled hearts with souls we cannot trust are forgiven. After all, we deserve our burdens; we are entitled to our troubles and we would not know who or what we are if, suddenly, our sentences were commuted and we were set free. Who are you once you are unchained and your prison is destroyed?

Jesus tells his disciples that he is preparing himself for death. He is leaving them. Confronted by their overwhelming anxiety and fear, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father's house. “I will come back again,” he assures them, “and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” Most anxious and skeptical of them all, Thomas, blurts out, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Can you hear Thomas' real question? He's really asking, “How can you abandon us? How can you just leave us here? Why are we being punished? We don't know the way!” Jesus says to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” You know the way. You know me, and I am the way. You know the truth and you know the life. I am the truth and the life. You have come to me, and in doing so, you have come to the Father. When I return, you will all return with me to the Father. Did his friends believe him? Do we believe him? If we think Jesus is lying, then we will never surrender our burdens, never give up the punishments for sin that we believe we deserve. If we trust in his word, then we will crawl out from under the anxiety and the despair; we will gladly, eagerly push aside all of our destructive guilt and self-recrimination. Finally, we will come to accept that we are not the sum total of our sins and the years we have spent in prison, but that we are the freed children of a loving God who waits for us to occupy the many rooms of His heavenly house. That's who and what we are: not guests or visitors but children, beloved sons and daughters come home, and come home for good.

Peter tells us more about who and what we are in Christ: “You are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises' of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We are a race—black, white, yellow, brown, red—a race of those chosen by God. We are royal priests, offering sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving on the altars of our daily lives. We are a holy nation—Americans, Russians, Japanese, Mexicans—a nation set aside to be a commonwealth of faith and reason in a world slowing going insane. And we are a people, a tribe, citizens and subjects of a kingdom that will never end. When we are who we were redeemed to be and when we do what we were redeemed to do, there is no time for us nor energy left in us for absurd burdens, futile punishments, or useless anxiety. 

Sisyphus, upon realizing that his punishment was at an end, and realizing that his gods had abandoned him, shook his fist at heaven, and a different terror overtook him. He was terrified of not knowing who or what we was without his burden, without his petty gods. If you are afraid of surrendering your worries and your labors b/c you believe that you deserve them, or b/c you fear that you will become lost, let Christ's words bang around in your mind for a while: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. . .I will come back again and take you to myself. . .”

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16 May 2014

The absurd dichotomy of Jesus without the Church

A not-so-subtle message to the LCWR?

This is what Pope Francis asserted in his address to the participants in the plenary assembly of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) whom he received in audience this morning. . .

“Your vocation is a fundamental charism for the Church's journey and it isn't possible that a consecrated woman or man might 'feel' themselves not to be with the Church. A 'feeling' with the Church that has generated us in Baptism; a 'feeling' with the Church that finds its filial expression in fidelity to the Magisterium, in communion with the Bishops and the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, a visible sign of that unity,” the pontiff added, citing Paul VI: “It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus but without the Church, of following Jesus outside of the Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church. Feel the responsibility that you have of caring for the formation of your Institutes in sound Church doctrine,* in love of the Church, and in an ecclesial spirit.” 

Oh, yes. . .I think so!

* A good place to start: invite religious who support the "New Cosmology" to explore career opportunities outside the seminary/school of theology. 

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Coffee Cup Browsing

Stamp Your Feet: a "dialogue" btw the CDF and LCWR. . .yes, it's meant to be funny, but it really does capture the back and forth.

Well, no big surprise here. Boy Scouts being pressured to allow openly gay adult leaders. Progs are so predictable.

Pope Francis on "intellectuals" in the Church. Hear, hear! (Yes, the irony of a Dominican cheering this is palpable).

Pregnant Sudanese Christian is sentenced to death for. . .being a Christian.


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15 May 2014


Birthday Thanks to Evandro M. for sending me The Genesis of Science from the Wish List.

Arrived in time for my visit to Squirrel Country at the end of this month!

Fr. Philip

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11 May 2014

"You are not owners of doctrine!"

Wise words from the Holy Father to newly ordained priests:

The Holy Father spoke to the men of his sadness at hearing of people who had the experience of being “thrashed” or “yelled at” in the confessional and never returned because they felt that “the doors of the Church were closed in their face!”

“Please, don’t do this!” he exclaimed.

[AMEN! This has got to be one of the dumbest things a priest can do. Confession is hard enough w/o adding another dose of fear to the equation. Anyone who approaches The Box is there b/c the Holy Spirit sent them there. And they should be treated as co-operators with the Spirit's grace.]
[. . .]

Pope Francis also reminded those seeking ordination to be faithful to the gospel they were taught rather than creating their own ideas.

“Teach that which you have learned in the faith, live that which you have taught. A nourishment to the people of God will therefore be your doctrine, which is not yours: you are not owners of doctrine! It is the doctrine of the Lord, and you must be faithful to the doctrine of the Lord!

[AMEN! No one owns the doctrine of the faith. Not even the Pope. Clergy and religious who treat the faith like a personal possession need to find another line of work. All this nonsense about "creative dissent" is just cover for plain ole dissent. Father shouldn't be teaching and preaching his personal theology.]
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Audio for "Cutting to Your Heart"

Audio recording of my homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter (A)

If my pronunciation seems odd, it's b/c the speaker system at the church was doing something weird to my voice, and I was hearing myself and trying to adjust my tone/volume/etc.

Just weird. 

And thanks to M.R. for sending me the recorder!  :-)

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Cutting to Your Heart

4th Sunday of Easter (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Does the Good News of Jesus Christ cut to your heart? Peter and the other eleven apostles preach to the citizens of Jerusalem, saying, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” This sentence actually concludes a longer exhortation where Peter lays out for the people the history and mission of the Son of God. He testifies as a witness that the Lord is risen, and that he will return. When the people hear all that Peter has to say, Luke reports in Acts that “they were cut to the heart.” And some three thousand were baptized that day. They were cut to the heart. Peter's testimony wounded each and every one of them to the core of their being, piercing all the way to the center of their ignorance and obstinance, convicting each and every one of them for their disobedience in darkness, and bringing them – 3,000 of them – to the light of Christ. Does the Good News of Jesus Christ cut to your heart? Are you convicted and convinced by the apostolic witness that our Lord is risen and that he rose from the tomb to accomplish your salvation?

What at first might seem like an easy question for a church-going Christian to answer isn't all that easy. I mean, the answer is obviously “yes” or you wouldn't be here. But as we know saying “yes” in church and being “yes” out in the world are two entirely different things. We are encouraged – if not quite yet required – to keep our spiritual lives to ourselves. Part of this encouragement comes from those who don't want to be bothered with religion and part of it comes from within us. We don't want our religion bothered, so we just pretend that being a Christian in the 21st century is an entirely private matter, no one elses business. At this point in our decadent culture, the detente between us believers and those who find our beliefs offensive is fast dissolving. And it is fast becoming more than just a little difficult to stay on the Narrow Way. Let's not blame anyone but ourselves for that. This is why I asked: “Does the Good News of Jesus Christ cut to your heart?” Are you convicted and convinced that Peter's apostolic witness is true? That Christ died and rose for your salvation? If you answer “yes” here inside the Church and out there, then do the people who see you everyday know that you belong to Christ?

You see, it's easy for me. I teach in a Catholic seminary. I wear a Dominican habit, live in a Dominican priory. Say Mass, hear confessions. You can't miss me walking around town looking like a redneck sumo wrestler in a bed sheet! Part of my job description as a religious is to be a very public sign of the Kingdom of God. For better or worse, everything I do – whether I like it or not – is a witness to the Gospel. And frankly, if I weren't a religious priest, I'd be a horrible Catholic. Probably a Christmas & Easter Catholic, if that. So, yea, it's relatively easy for people out there to see me and know that I belong to Christ. But what about you? How do you do it? What signs do you give? What do you say? You don't have to a Catholic version of the Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on doors at dinner time. You don't have to stand on the corner with a Bible and rosary yelling at people, “Hey! Have you prayed the Luminous Mysteries today?” Being a witness for Christ's death and resurrection means living everyday as a sign of hope for those with no hope, a sign of peace for those who know no peace. It means suffering with others so that Christ's presence to them shines through you. It means looking at everyone you meet as an addition to your growing yet still imperfect image of God. 

During his first year as our Holy Father, Pope Francis has challenged us over and over again to go out and be Christs for others. Not to allow ourselves to become museum pieces. Not to allow the Holy Spirit within to wither away from disuse. At one point, while speaking to the clergy, he said that deacons, priests, religious, and bishops should smell like their sheep! (Thanks be to God that New Orleans Catholics tend to their hygiene!) So, if the clergy should smell like their sheep, then what should the sheep smell like? Perhaps the sheep should smell like their neighbors who are not yet sheep, like their co-workers who are not yet part of the flock, maybe even like the wolves who stalk the flock looking for a chance to pounce. But what good is smelling like your neighbor, your co-workers, the wolves if we don't fully grasp and live out everyday the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ? In other words, if our evangelization is about putting kiesters in pews, and not bringing the Good News of God's mercy to sinners, then it doesn't matter what we smell like. It doesn't matter what we believe or who we believe in. Mega-churches all over the nation draw thousands of kiesters to their pews. And for what? Entertainment and psychobabble. Our 2,000 year old apostolic faith is not entertaining nor is it psychobabble. We are the Body of Christ on earth. And we bear witness to his death and resurrection!

When Peter finished preaching, and the people there were cut to the heart by his witness, they ask, “What do we do now?” He says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repent. Be baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit. And do all these in the name of Jesus Christ. Why his name? He himself tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Only through the Gate of Christ can a wolves become sheep. Only through Christ can sinners become saints. Only through Christ can any of us find hope for resurrection and life eternal. Does this Good News cut to your heart? Does it wound pride, greed, envy, anxiety, disappointment, despair? Entertainment and psychobabble cannot cut into the darkness of disobedience and death. Only the light of Christ can cut through the darkness that binds us to sin. And you – as bearers of his light – take that light out into the world and shine it everywhere you go.

Does the Good News of Jesus Christ cut to your heart? If so, then let the Holy Spirit take you out of here and into the world so that your life might be for others their way to Christ.


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Why?! O, Why, Holy Spirit?!

Homily writing is hard!

I'm slogging through the third draft of a bad one.

Out of practice, uh?

Looking more and more likely that I will be recycling an older effort, or maybe just winging it. . .sssshhhhhhh. . .don't tell my seminarians. I've told them that "winging it" is a mortal sin.

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