26 September 2014

Who is Jesus for me and mine?

NB. I celebrated the NDS Masses this Tues, Wed, and Thurs b/c the priests of the archdiocese were having a big meeting. I was the only priest left at the seminary!  Today, I have 16 homily-tutorials scheduled. Oy. Below is a homily from 2012. Just thought I'd close out the week. . .

25th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio file

We've heard it said—many times—that we live and move and have our being in God. Without God, we are nothing, literally, not a thing at all. So, one of the most humble services that we perform for ourselves is to measure, to take account of, where we stand in the creating and re-creating kinship that gave us life and sustains us in love. When we perform this humble service, what are we measuring? What sort of scale do we use? Since our relationship with God is familial, that is, we think and act along with God as a family, and since a family is bound together by blood and nourished in love, we could describe our relationship to the Father as holy—a relationship set apart from the world, consecrated to a divine purpose. How then do we measure holiness—our nearness to the Father, our distance from Him? Sin measures our distance from God; obedience measures our nearness. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes tells us that all things under heaven have their appointed time, a time to arrive and unfold, a time to depart and decay. As we live and move and have our being in God, it is always time to measure our kinship with Him. Now and always is the right moment to ask yourself, “Who is Jesus for me and mine?” Your answer measures your holiness.

When Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answers, “The Christ of God,” Jesus rebukes them all and orders them to keep this answer a secret. Having taken the measure of his disciples and heard their confession of faith, our Lord not only silences them, he also reveals to them his immediate future: suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. Does he silence them b/c he fears too many will suffer and die along with him? Or does he demand they keep this secret so that his ministry might not be impeded by his enemies? Our Lord knows that to follow him is invites persecution. But following him also guarantees rescue. Following him guarantees death, but it also promises resurrection. Maybe he demands silence about his true identity b/c he knows that too many will too quickly chase after him and fail to soberly measure the consequences, fail to honestly take account of the sacrifices required to live the radical love that the Father demands of His children. If there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to sow and a time to harvest, then there is a time to soberly, honestly measure who Christ is and who you are as his student in the school of charity.

Friday is the traditional day in the Church calendar when we remember the crucifixion and examine our relationship in holiness with God. If sin measures our distance from God and obedience our nearness, then there is no better day to take account our of disobedience and give thanks for the nearness of His mercy. And there is no better way to accomplish this work of humility than to spend some time seriously contemplating our answer to the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” For there to be any chance at all that he is the rock of your holiness, he must be—minimally—the one, the only one who suffered on the cross for you; died for you; and rose on the third day for you. Whatever else and whoever else he might be for you—enlightened master, social justice icon, moral exemplar—he must be the Crucified Christ, the long-promised Messiah. Your faith in this truth is the unique measure of your holiness. Not the only measure to be sure but the one that gives all other measures their scale. I dare you: examine your day—your thoughts, words, deeds—and ask yourself before you fall asleep: seeing and hearing me today, is there anyone out there b/c of me who loves God more now than they did when they woke up this morning?

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25 September 2014

Have you sworn to the mission of Christ?

25th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA
We know that kings fear prophets and we know why: prophets of the Lord trust in God alone, leaving no room in their hearts for the things of this world, no space for the king to occupy with threats or bribes. Now we know that kings can be perplexed by the Lord's prophets and preachers – curious or puzzled by who they are and what they might achieve in God's name. Herod the tetrarch hears “about all that [is] happening” in his kingdom, and the news leaves him “greatly perplexed.” All that is happening in Herod's kingdom is the ministry of Jesus the Christ. Teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons. All that is happening is the fulfillment of the Father's promise to His people to forever free them from the slavery of sin. All that is happening is the advent of the long-awaited Messiah and the redemption of creation as a hostage to death. Herod is perplexed b/c some say that this Jesus is Elijah the prophet. Some say that he is the martyred herald, John. So, the king, anxiously curious, asks, “Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” To quail his anxiety and satiate his curiosity, Herod persists in “trying to see him.” As priests, prophets, and kings in Christ Jesus, it is our sacred duty to show the Herod's of this world exactly who Christ is.

In Herod's own day, Christ showed himself to be exactly who and what he claimed to be: the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Messiah. In word and deed, he revealed the Father to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. And upon those who saw and heard his Word, he sent the Holy Spirit in fire and tongues to give birth to the Church. The witness of the Church – from that 2,000 yr old Pentecost up to and including Sept 25, 2014 – is the consistent, on-going testimony of the Spirit manifested in and through the words and deeds of the men and women who surrender themselves to the ever-merciful will of God and place themselves wholly under obedience to the single-hearted mission of Christ: tell my Father's people that through me His mercy is freely given for the salvation of their souls. Is this the mission and ministry you have sworn yourself to? Are you under the obedience of Christ to preach and teach the Good News – that no one has to remain a slave to sin; that no one has to endure the permanent darkness of death; that no one can be compelled to deny that Jesus is Lord? If we are not preaching and teaching and living out Christ's command to love, then how we will show our 21st century Herod's exactly who Christ is?
Qoheleth – centuries ago – prophetically describes an enduring spirit, one that still animates the powers of this world: useless vanity, futile labor, directionless change, wasted bounty, breathless speech, exhausted novelty, and the forgetfulness of memory and its destruction. We can call this spirit, Nihil – the emptiness that motivates Herod's perplexity and the principal obstacle to our mission. Nihil possesses the heart and mind and encourages chaos by convincing the poor soul that only Nothing matters; Nothing is good, true, and beautiful; Nothing rules and guides; Nothing is sacred, Nothing transcends. Against the spirit of Nihil, God's prophets and preachers bring another Spirit, another more powerful force: the spirit and power of Caritas. All that is happening through us must be the love and mercy Christ promises to sinners. It's not enough to just speak the words. We are vowed to preach the Word. Teach the Word. And act out the Word. We must be and do exactly who and what Christ is for the salvation of the world. Herod was perplexed. This world is more than perplexed; it is possessed of a spirit of destruction and deceit. Our sacred duty is to show a Better Way by being that Better Way, by being Christ for others.

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24 September 2014

Graft your life onto the Cross

25th Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Kings fear prophets b/c prophets have nothing to lose when the kings decides that the prophet's truth-telling threatens kingly power. With nothing and no one to hold hostage, nothing short of death can silence a noisy prophet. And thus are we tested in faith: are you prepared to die for telling the Truth and doing the Good? More specifically, are you prepared to die for preaching Christ and for living out his unbreakable Word? If not, Christ says, “Take nothing for the journey. . .” Take nothing along with you but Christ. Take nothing but his Word – his promises, his mighty deeds. Anything not of Christ and everyone but Christ can be taken from you. Mother, father, brothers and sisters, friends, car, house, job, reputation – all of these can be/will be destroyed when the powers of this world tire of your truth-telling and do-gooding. If nothing and no one comes before Christ, if nothing and no one counts more than Christ in your work, then the king cannot silence you. He cannot kill Christ. Not again. Christ has defeated the kings of this world. So, whatever treasure they may have to tempt you into silence – it all belongs to Christ. . .and to us as his adopted brothers and sisters. Our prayer as prophets on the Way: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only [what] I need.”

In the summer of 2013, Pope Francis preached to a group of seminarians and religious novices in Rome. He exhorted them, “Herein lies the secret of the fruitfulness of a disciple of the Lord! Jesus sends his followers out with no 'purse, no bag, no sandals'. The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.” Graft your life onto the Cross. Is it possible to graft your life onto the Cross if you come to the Cross weighted down with Necessary Things, with Important Relationships, and Serious Responsibilities? If we love these more than Christ? No. No, we cannot be grafted onto the Cross weighed down by these burdens. However, if we love Christ first, that is, if we love all other things, people, and relationships through our love for Christ – placing Christ first in the order of understanding – then we are already grafted onto to the trunk of the Cross. And our lives are lives of praise and thanksgiving for the chance to die with him on the altar of his cross.

In 21st century America, it is more than just a little difficult to imagine the depth of surrender that Jesus is urging on us. Yes, he means material poverty when he says “take nothing on the journey.” Yes, by “[take] neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, [nor] a second tunic” he means to say that the things we own too often come to own us. And yes, he means that virtuous detachment from stuff is essential to the preaching of the Good News. But the depth of our surrender can only begin with material poverty and virtuous detachment. If we become poor and wholly detached and yet remain uncommitted to Christ's ministry of freely given mercy and sacrificial love, then we are nothing more than just detached and poor. Can poverty and detachment alone tell the Truth and do the Good? No. Kings do not fear the poor and the detached. The powers of this world fear the prophet's trust in God alone. They fear humility, mercy, and the sort of love that dies for another. The depth of our surrender then is measured not by our material poverty or detachment, but how freely and eagerly our poverty and detachment bring Christ to those caught in the traps of sin and death. 
So. . .who or what owns you, holding you back from diving to the deepest depths of surrender in Christ?

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23 September 2014

Your head on a platter

Padre Pio
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre dame Seminary, NOLA

Why would a king fear a prophet? How does a man like Herod, a man with wealth, political and military power, and the loyalty of Imperial Rome, become anxious about some backwoods preacher? At first glance, prophets are nobodies. Disreputable, destitute, wandering madmen. No family ties. No wealth, no power, no prestigious academic credentials. They have no institutional affiliations, no grant money, no access to the media. Their overwhelming stench drives even the unwashed paparazzi away! So, who are these men who give kings sleepless nights? If they are truly prophets of the Lord, then they have one thing any king should fear: a mandate from God to speak the truth. While God's prophets preach the Word, kings play the game of politics, a game of influence in the acquisition of power. And the fact that prophets have nothing lose—nothing to bargain with, nothing to compromise—well, this makes them dangerous indeed. Herod murdered John the Baptist on a whim. And that preacher from Nazareth is quickly becoming a problem. Himself a priest, a prophet, and a king, Jesus goes around claiming to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. With nothing to lose, nothing to compromise, he is an imminent threat to the secular power of kings. And King Herod in particular. As the Body of Christ—each one of us, baptized as priests, prophets, and kings—as the Church, do we pose an imminent threat to the powers of this world? If we don't, we aren't doing our jobs.

There was a time when the Church could cause kings and queens to quake under their royal bed covers. No monarch legitimately ruled without the consent of the Church. Popes could foment a revolution by relieving a monarch's subjects from their sacred duty to obey their betters. The Church commanded armies, treasuries, orders of knights, and, most frightening of all, the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Just ask the Holy Roman Emperor, King Henry IV about those keys! But Herod doesn't fear Jesus b/c Jesus can rouse the rabble and arm them, or because he can buy a spot in the line of royal succession. Herod is anxious about Jesus, perplexed by this itinerant preacher for the same reason that most rulers fear those with nothing to lose: there's nothing—short of death—to stop them from speaking the truth. And in the case of Christ, death proved to be an international catalyst for the spread of his Good News!

As the Church, the Body of Christ, each of us baptized as priests, prophets, and kings, do we keep the worldly powers awake at night worrying about the truth we might unleashed upon the realm? Though fear can be a powerful motivator for getting the right thing done, we no longer rely on ecclesial knights and papal armies to threaten kings with the violence of heaven. In all the ways that truly matter, we have become more powerful by abdicating power, wealthier in abandoning wealth, and holier in surrendering the pretenses of an Imperial Church. But are we stripped bare enough to bring the prophetic word to those who would threaten what we have left? Christ warned his disciples that to be faithful to the end they could prefer nothing and no one before him. Anything and anyone we choose before we choose Christ is something or someone for us to lose when the king gets anxious about our truth-telling. Then, we are forced to choose again and again, each time we are called upon for the sake of unity, or fashion, or convenience, each time we are harangued to compromise or lie or cheat, we must choose. Christ or power? Christ or influence? Christ or celebrity? Christ or popularity? Christ or the family and friends?

The preacher, Qoheleth, infamously laments: “All things are vanity!” Futile, fleeting. For the Church, this is not a lament but an expression of hope. The Good News of Christ Jesus is no thing. Neither futile nor fleeting. And if we, his Body, are to be prophetic in a time of corrupt and violent power, we cannot flinch from speaking veritas in caritate, truth in love. 
So, let me ask you: how do you think your head will look on a silver platter?


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Audio File: homily for 25th Sunday OT

Audio file: "Magnify Christ with your generosity"

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21 September 2014

Magnify Christ with your generosity!

25th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Without a bit of pride, Paul proclaims: “Christ will be magnified in my body.” He sounds very much like Mary saying YES to the Lord’s angel at the Annunciation. Christ will be made larger, brighter, sharper, louder, and more skilled in Paul’s body. Paul says without fear, “Christ will be magnified in my body whether by life or by death.” Whether alive or dead, Christ will be magnified. Like Mary at the feet of the angel, Paul turns his life and his death over to the Lord—and to the work of the Lord—and confesses to his brothers and sisters in Philippi that his life as a worker for the Lord will be larger, brighter, sharper, and more skilled precisely b/c the work he does will be done for the greater glory of the God. And this is just the work of his life! Death is no obstacle for Paul b/c “life is Christ, and death is gain.” Live in Christ and magnify God's work on earth. Die in Christ, be with God eternally, and still magnify His work in His presence. Our commitment to Christ is life and death; in life and in death, we serve the mighty works of God!

Notice this about Paul's commitment to Christ: he doesn't donate his time, talent, and treasure out of any excess of these gifts. He doesn’t give over to the work of the Lord the overflow of his riches. The leftovers. Paul does not say “Christ will be magnified in my checkbook.” “Christ will be magnified in my volunteer hours.” “Christ will be magnified in my talent.” He says that Christ will be magnified in his body. His very flesh and bone. And whether he lives or dies the work he does for the Lord will bear abundant fruit for others. Paul doesn't parcel his life (or his death) into discreet packages addressed to different and equally worthy recipients: his family, his career, his friends, and, oh, one for the Lord too here on the bottom somewhere. Paul’s whole life—the first fruits, the abundant works, the failures and misgivings, and, finally, his last breath—all of it, his whole life is given to Christ for the enlargement of Christ and his mission of mercy on earth.

But what does it mean for Christ to be magnified in the body? We are being admonished to pull ourselves out of the habit of abstraction, the all-too-devilish temptation to lift our religious obligations to one another into the heavens where we can keep them separate from any real duty to perform them here on earth. So long as the obligation to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned remain abstracted moral imperatives far, far away Up There, we are tempted to honor them in the abstract – neglect to perform them – and remain confident that the work of the Lord is getting done. Paul’s insistence that Christ will be magnified in his body is the clearest indication we have that the work of the Lord is to be done. Not just thought about or prayed over. Not just written about. Not just preached about. And certainly not abstracted and lifted up and placed a spiritualized “to do” list. The work of Christ is to be done. And done first for and only God’s greater glory.

Now. I know what you’re thinking! “Wow, Father is wound up tonight. He must think we’re all lazy bums laying around thinking about the good works of mercy, but watching Wheel of Fortune instead!” Not quite. I know the generosity of this community, and I know that you are motivated to be instruments of the Lord in the world. There is a hunger here for others to see and hear what God has done in your lives. There is an eagerness here, a tangible need to draw others to God and to bear witness to them the power of Christ’s mercy—to forgive, to heal, to bless. I’m not wagging my finger at you tonight, but merely reminding us all where we come from, where we are, and where we are going. We were sent by Christ. We are with Christ. And we will be with Christ – in life and in death.

There is, however, a temptation waiting for us. An eager little devil waiting to pounce on our witness to the Lord. It is an opportunity for us to sin and delight the Liar. What is this temptation? It is the temptation to believe that we work for God out of our own generosity, out of our own time, out of our own resources, and we are therefore entitled to a greater reward when we outwork our neighbors in doing good deeds.

This is pretty much what the parable of the whiny workers is all about, a parable about our salvation and our growth in holiness. The whiny workers begrudge the landowner’s generosity when he pays full wages to the laborers who hadn't work as long as they had. Why? For some reason they feel that their own labor and their own wages are diminished by the generosity of the vineyard owner. Somehow their day’s labor is dirtied. Their dollar is devalued. They worked harder and longer under the fiery sun, so they deserve more than those who sauntered in at the last hour and barely broke a sweat! These guys are upset b/c they are working out of a worldly notion of justice – compensation is earned; you should get what is owed you, what you deserve. All true. . .in the world. But remember, this is a parable about salvation and holiness not a lesson on capitalist economics.

Think about applying a worldly notion of justice to your spiritual life. Do you want God to compensate you for your life’s work in Christ using this world's idea of what's just? Do we really want our lives judged by a worldly standard? Do we want to live forever with what we deserve? What we’ve earned in this life? The whole point of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is that we won’t be given what we deserve; we won’t receive from the Father what is owed to us. Before the coming of the Christ, God's people had to earn His justice. Good works, holiness, purity, obedience kept you in the Covenant and entitled you to His just rewards. Failure to live up to the Covenant earned you His just punishments. But with the coming of the Christ, we no longer need to earn or even fear His justice b/c He has given us – just freely handed over – His mercy in the person of Christ Jesus.

On the Altar of the Cross our Final Wage is offered once for all. Unearned by us. Yet freely given to us. Whether you came to your salvation as an infant sixty years ago or as a teenager ten years ago or as an adult three hours ago, your Final Wage comes from the bottomless cache of the Father’s generosity. Salvation is free. Holiness—the living out of that salvation morning, afternoon, and night—is hard, sweaty work. But even that labor is graced by a loving God Who would see us with Him for eternity. That grace, His gifts are more than sufficient to help us magnify the Lord – in our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.

THEREFORE, make Christ larger, brighter, louder, sharper, sweeter, stronger, kinder, truer, more beautiful, more loving, more faithful, more humble, more generous, and make Christ bigger, and bigger, and bigger in your life. Magnify the Lord 'til your knees buckle. Magnify the Lord 'til your back hurts. Magnify the Lord in your body 'til there is no room for sin. And when the Lord asks, “Are you jealous b/c I am generous to sinners?” Be able to say with all honesty, “No, Lord! I am grateful in life and death, and I live and die to magnify you.”

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