29 December 2015

Back in NOLA & Thanks

I made it back to NOLA safely!

Waiting upon me -- outside my door -- from the Wish List were several books and some paint. . .

Thanks to Matheus, Jenny K, and Shelly for your kind generosity!

One package of paint (medium magenta) didn't have a name on it, so. . .thanks to this Anon Benefactor.

Wedding on Dec 31st, Masses at Tulane Univ and OLR on Jan 3rd. . .and back to work at the seminary on Jan 12th.

God bless and Happy New Year!


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24 December 2015

Love made Flesh. . .


Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity (Vigil)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Every religion in human history has its prophets, mystics, saints, avatars, bodhisattvas, miracle-workers, and gurus. By whatever name they are called, these human-divine combos serve the same general purpose: to bring the natural world of man into closer contact with the supernatural world of the divine. The idea seems to be that closer human contact with the divine will somehow “save” or “redeem” or “enlighten” the lost, the ignorant, and the just plain evil among us. Most religious traditions claim to be founded on revelation or some sort of mystical experience. Most have the expected accoutrements of worship: clergy, laity, sacred texts, prayer, temples/churches, vestments, etc. And most claim a certain exclusive access to universal truth and goodness. However, of all the religions currently practiced in the world, only one claims to follow an incarnated god; only one can credibly claim that its founder and central figure of worship walked among us a person, fully human and fully divine. We call the arrival this person in human history, “The Nativity of the Lord.” And it is this event that we remember and celebrate this evening. Once again, we welcome the Christ, Emmanuel, “God is with us.” 

For our welcome to be truly sincere, it's important that we understand—to the degree possible—who it is that we are welcoming among us. A good start on this understanding would be to identify who we are NOT welcoming. We are not welcoming a person who is half and half, half human and half divine. Nor is he man with a human body and divine soul. Nor is he really just a man with a divine mind; nor a god who has taken on the appearance of a man. Or, as the current theological fashion argues, an enlightened man who had evolved beyond being merely human. The Church has considered all of these possibilities and rejected them as heresy. In fact, all of these possibilities for understanding the nature of Christ were rejected in the year 451 A.D. by the Council of Chalcedon. For at least 1,561 years, the Church has taught and defended a single view on the nature of the Christ, the Chalcedonian Formula. This formula explains part of the Nicene Creed: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father. . .” Christ is consubstantial with the Father, meaning Christ and the Father are of the same substance, the identical divine nature. Thus, Emmanuel, “God is with us,” is the perfect name for Christ. 

Now, why in the world am I pestering you on Christmas Eve with a mini-lecture on christology? Well, here's why: the Chalcedonian Formula does more than simply define the true nature of Christ—tell us who Christ is. By telling us who Christ is, the formula also tells us Christ's purpose—what it is he came among us to do. And giving us these two bits of info about Christ helps us to welcome him with true sincerity. The Formula reveals that Jesus Christ is a divine person, the Son of God, with two natures: one human and one divine. By comparison, each one of us is a human person with just one nature, human. Because Christ is a divine person with both a divine and a human nature, he is uniquely placed in our salvation history to be the one (and the only one) to bring us into full union with God. Here's how the CCC puts it: “The Word became flesh to make us 'partakers of the divine nature'.” Then quoting St. Athanasius, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (n. 460). So, when we welcome Christ among us at his Nativity, we also welcome among us our only means of attaining perfect union with our heavenly Father. 

Knowing all this, we might ask: what was preventing the possibility of perfect union before Christ's nativity? Simply put: sin; or rather, no perfect means of forgiving sin. Look at the gospel. Joseph is thinking about divorcing Mary b/c she's pregnant before they have consummated their betrothal. In a dream, an angel of the Lord visits Joseph and lays out for him exactly who it is that his wife is carrying in her womb. The angel says, “Joseph do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Thus, we have the two natures of Christ: the divine from the H.S. and the human from Mary, herself immaculately conceived. The angel continues, “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The divine person of Christ is the means by which God's people are saved from their sins, the sins that prevent us from being in perfect union with the Father. Again, we not only welcome the birth of the Christ Child tonight, we also welcome the birth of the possibility of becoming a child of God as well. The first step along this path is to open your heart and mind to the H.S. and follow Mary's humble example, saying with her, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” 

This resounding “fiat” highlighted Mary in history like no other woman had ever been before or since. She has been known through the centuries by many exalted titles and she is known now by many more: God-bearer, Mother of God; Mater Dolorosa, Mater Gloriosa; Mediatrix of All Graces; and Queen of Heaven. Though all theologically sound and historically accurate, these titles tempt us to forget a vital fact. We must remember—especially on the eve of Christ's nativity—that Mary was a teenaged girl, a virgin betrothed to Joseph and placed at the center of a cosmic drama that brought to fulfillment some 5,000 yrs of God's plans for mankind. If we welcome among us tonight the birth of the Christ Child, then we must also gives our thanks to Mary for her faithfulness, her courage, and her strength in the face of what we can only imagine was a harrowing adventure, a truly frightening and rewarding journey toward perfection. She is the model for how the Church best responds to the Father's invitation to live with Him forever. And as such, she is also the model of each one of us as we choose and pursue the narrow path toward holiness. 

We give Emmanuel a sincere welcome. We give thanks to Mary. We offer the Father our praise and the H.S. an invitation. And as we continue our welcome, we also pray. What should we pray for on this Holy Night? The Chief Shepherd of the Church, Pope Benedict, urges us to pray: “Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.”

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20 December 2015

Waiting is not doing nothing. . .

NB. from 2012. . .visiting The Squirrels until after Christmas.

4th Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Through his prophet, Micah, the Lord God promises, “. . .from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. . .He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD. . .he shall be peace.” This promise was made almost 800 years before the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem. Between the making of this promise and the birth of Christ, eighteen generations of God's people waited and waited and waited for its fulfillment. And when the Lord God placed His only-begotten Son in the virginal womb of a teenaged Mary, and she bore him into the world as a squalling baby in a barn, who could blame God's people for their disappointment and their turning away to wait some more? Rulers are born to kings and queens. Strength comes from wealth. Peace is settled with a sword. Babies born to working class bumpkins from the sticks do not grow up to rule God's people. And so, the waiting continues. For those of us who see in the Christ Child a ruler of strength and peace, the wait is almost over. Just two days and our wait is over. Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. Blessed are those who wait upon the Lord. 

Speaking strictly for myself, patience is not a virtue; it's more like a penance, a trial, or even a punishment. Being patient requires a level of “letting go” that I find extraordinarily difficult to master. Over the years, I've gotten better at enduring the obvious flaws of others. No one's perfect after all. Me included. But, of course, my own flaws never inconvenience anyone else. The truest test of patience ever invented by the Devil is called “Driving in New Orleans.” Second to this test is the one called “Parking in New Orleans.” Either one of these tests alone would wear a hole in the patience of the Virgin herself and both of them together would likely cause Jesus to return in the Apocalypse earlier than planned. Fortunately, for the sake of my holiness and humility, I am tested often enough to notice that patience in waiting can—sometimes—actually be virtue: the good habit of letting go and waiting upon the Lord. If Lent is that time before Easter when we are consigned to wait upon the Lord's resurrection, then Advent is our time to wait upon his birth. As Christians, our waiting is not polluted by impatience. We know he is coming. Rather, our patient waiting is flavored by anticipation. 

Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. What has the Lord spoken to us? What word of His do we believe will be fulfilled? Through His prophet, Micah, He says, “. . .from you [Bethlehem] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. . .He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord. . .he shall be peace.” He also says through Micah, “. . .the Lord will give [Israel] up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne. . .” The time between the delivery of this prophecy and its fulfillment in the delivery of the Christ Child by Mary is the Advent of Israel, that long season of waiting between hearing the good news of a future Messiah and his arrival among us. Eight hundred years of anticipation, eight hundred years of waiting and waiting. If hopeful anticipation spices the main event, then the birth of Christ was well-seasoned! However, we know that his arrival—his humble start—was a disappointment to most of those who had patiently stood by. Perhaps they had forgotten the last sentence of what the Lord had said to Micah about the coming of the Messiah, “He shall be peace.” What sort of king comes to deliver his people from oppression using a sword of peace? 

God's people waited for eight hundred years for the coming of the promised Messiah. Some—those who do not follow the Christ—wait still. And even though the Messiah has been born to the virgin as prophesied, and even though we who follow Christ no long wait for his arrival in history, we still wait for the advent of his universal peace. We don't need a recitation of recent global and domestic events to know that we are far from the peace promised by the birth of the Savior. If anything, violence and death seem to be taking the upper hand. It is not too much for us ask: how much more strain can civilization bear before it cracks and falls apart? When we ask questions like this, and when we expect answers in concrete terms (days, weeks, months), we tend to forget that as followers of the Prince of Peace our hope, the fulfillment of God's promise of peace, is not to be found on a watch or a calendar. It's not found in the workings of the State, the laboratory, the classroom, or the battlefield. Our hope, the fulfillment of God's promise of peace, rests solely in the kingdom Christ brought with him to that barn in Bethlehem, the same kingdom he will bring to completion when he comes again. “He shall be peace,” and he is our peace until he comes again.

There's an obvious danger to this way of thinking. If we are simply waiting for the universal peace of Christ to arrive when he comes again, then we can be sorely tempted to adopt a “do-nothing” quietism; that is, we are poked and prodded by the sheer overwhelming horror of violence and death to stand aside and gamble our lives away on the off-chance that God will “do something” about this mess. So often we hear people ask after a disaster, “Where was God?” The assumption being that if God really existed or really cared, none of this horrible stuff would've happened. We waited on your help, Lord, and you never showed. Perhaps the most frustrating part of being a follower of Christ is knowing that help for our world is coming but that it did not arrive in time. Of course, help did arrive in time. He arrived 2,000 years ago as a child born in a barn. What we are waiting on now is our own growth in holiness, our own progress toward the righteousness that he made possible by his death and resurrection. If we want peace now, if we want help now, then we must be that help and that peace in his name. We cannot be both freed from our fallen nature by grace AND free from the consequences of that fallen nature. If we will be free to follow him in peace, then in peace we must follow His will and word. 

Just two days and our wait is over. Blessed are those who believe that what is spoken to them by the Lord will be fulfilled. Blessed are those who wait with anticipation upon the Lord. Elizabeth blesses Mary b/c Mary believed Gabriel's word to her. She says Yes to being the Mother of the Christ Child and comes down to us in the faith as the Blessed Virgin Mary. For an example of humility and peace, we need to look no further than the fervor with which this teenaged girl freely accepted the harrowing mission of bearing the Word made flesh into the world. As a good Jewish woman, Mary knows words of the prophets. She knows who it is she is carrying in her womb. She runs to Elizabeth in haste to greet her cousin, and all of her hopes are fulfilled when Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” With the birth of Christ 2,000 yrs ago and with our celebration of his Nativity in two days time, we too are blessed. We have seen the glory of God in the face of a child and what we saw there has freed us to await the coming of his peace.

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13 December 2015

I say again: Rejoice!

3rd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Lay Carmelites/OLR, NOLA

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Given the state of the world, it might seem irresponsible to spend our time rejoicing in the Lord. Shouldn't we be trying to solve the problems our sins have created? Shouldn't we be worried about poverty, terrorism, environmental destruction, and the collapse of our nation's moral conscience? These are the Big Issues, the Big Problems that need our attention. After all, the Lord can do w/o our rejoicing. True. The Lord is perfectly who he is and will always be w/o our rejoicing. He can do w/o it. But can we? Can we survive and thrive as fallen men and women if we fail to rejoice in the Lord? No, we can't. We rejoice in the Lord for the same reason that we pray, offer sacrifice and worship; for the same reason we give alms, spend our time and talent helping the Church. All of these – most especially rejoicing – prepare us to better receive the graces that God has already given us in abundance. To rejoice, that is, to immerse yourself in the joy that only Christ can give is to bring yourself into the presence of the one who is Joy Himself. As an effect of divine love, divine joy is Christ – unfiltered, undiluted.

The third Sunday of Advent is marked out for us as a day for rejoicing. Even as we wait for the coming of the Christ Child and the Lord coming again, we set aside one Sunday in the season to give ourselves over to the joy that only Christ can bring to perfection. The worries of the world are same worries that plagued our grandparents, their grandparents, and theirs. The worries of this world are the worries of a world ruled by the princes and principalities who willfully rejected the offer of divine love offered to them at their creation. These powers are incapable of love, immune to mercy, and utterly w/o hope. Why should the world they rule be any different? Their anxieties rub off on us b/c we live in their world. But we are not of their world. We belong to Christ and to him alone. It is in this knowledge and with supreme faith and living in hope that we can we say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. . .Rejoice!” Today is made holy for our rejoicing, set apart as a time and place for us to immerse ourselves fully in the presence of Christ who announced his Father's kingdom, who is building his kingdom even now, and who will come again to finish what he started. While we wait, we also rejoice.

And our saint for waiting and rejoicing is John the Baptist! He goes before the Lord announcing his arrival, baptizing for the repentance of sin, and anticipating the one who will baptize with the fire of the Holy Spirit. John rejoiced in his mother's womb at the arrival of Mary and the yet-to-be born Jesus. He spends his life in the desert, waiting for the time to go back into the world and herald the Savior's coming. Today we take just one day to bask in Christ's joy before we go back into the world and herald the Savior's arrival. Because we have a job to do – a holy job – we do not have the time or the energy or the patience to endure the worries of the world. The world created its worries; let the world deal with them. Our task is to be Christs in the world while never being of the world. Our task is to defeat sin and death with the mercy and love that Christ freely, abundantly gives. Our task is to go out, wherever it is that we belong and thrive, to go and herald the arrival of Christ, announcing to all who will hear, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

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11 December 2015

Happy Meal Spirituality

NB. Re-posting this 2005 homily b/c it uses one of my fav phrases. . .
2nd Week of Advent 2005 (Fri)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas
Not a flattering picture, is it? Jesus compares his generation to fickle children trying to entertain one another in the marketplace: they play joyful music and no one dances, mournful music and no one cries. They complain bitterly to one another because the entertainment is ignored, unappreciated. You can almost see their energetic boredom, their restless hunger to be amused, diverted—show us something fun, something wild and crazy! Their attention owned by the flashiest sight, the loudest noise, the most daring stunt. They are a generation of vacillating thrill seekers, a generation given over to the inconsistency of their passion for the next bright-shiny thing, the next pretty novelty, the next whatever it is that they haven’t seen before.

Jesus is worried that his generation lacks wisdom, that there is a spirit of folly animating those who watch him and expect to be entertained, those who follow him but do so only to see a show. This fickleness is a sign that an abiding wisdom eludes them, that they have sold themselves to the arena, the theater of foolishness, and squander their lives on the silliness of spectacle.

This fickle generation rejects John because of his asceticism—no eating, no drinking—and they reject Jesus because of his generosity—a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Every face of redemption shown them, they reject. Every opportunity given to them to come to wisdom seems somehow wrong, not quite to their taste. Jesus’ frustration with their folly is clear in his irritated tone: “But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Of course, Jesus’ vision is broader than one generation. No doubt he is looking forward and watching generation after generation fall into the same temptation to pull wisdom down from the altar and replace it with foolish novelties, silly entertainments. Is there a generation that hasn’t done this? Has there been a time in the Church when we weren’t distracted by the empty promises of the Lie and our attention taken away from the Word? Probably not. But I think we’ve gotten a lot better at distilling the silliness into more intense moments of fleeting sensation, much better at staging the drama—the tragedies and the comedies—of our hungry lives into bigger, brighter, better funded orgies of spiritually useless consumption. 

Our way out, of course, is Jesus—to be true followers, to get in behind him and walk his path, his narrow way, to our perfection in holiness. Isaiah preaches to us, prophesies for us that it is the Lord, our God, who will teach us what is good and who will lead us on the way we should go. He promises prosperity and vindication, great success and justification, if we will listen to the Lord’s will for us, pay attention to His plan for us and follow Him. God’s wisdom for us will be justified in the works He does for us, with us, and through us.

John’s penitential austerity and Jesus extravagant love, the precursor and the consummation of our salvation, demands a more focused attention, a weightier commitment than all the spiritual entertainments of this generation: New Age non-sense, self-help psychobabble, do-it-my-way-Catholicism, and the cult of narcissistic, material acquisition. What feeds us, fills us finally, is the Lord’s feast of wisdom, His party of eternal goods laid out for us, given to us to satisfy that gnawing hunger, that deep rumbling of need that pushes us toward the easy fill, the quick snack.
Who, but a fool, eats the Happy Meal when the All-You-Can-Eat buffet of the Lord is right here, free of charge?


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06 December 2015

Is your heart and mind straightened and smoothed?

2nd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
The Word of God speaks to John, calling him out of his desert exile to preach the advent of Jerusalem's salvation, the imminent arrival of the Messiah. John, both a prophet and a herald, travels the whole region of the Jordan, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Our gospel writer, Luke, quotes the prophet Isaiah, “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'” This is the charge given to John: ready the nation, prepare God's people; straighten their minds; soothe their losses; temper their victories; and soften their stony hearts to receive the consummation of all prophecy, baptizing with water all those who repent of their disobedience, so that their sins may be forgiven. Are you ready? Is your heart and mind straightened and smoothed? Have you prepared yourself for the coming of the Christ? 

We all know that Advent is meant to prepare us for the coming of the Christ Child. This is that time of the liturgical year when we read and hear all about the preaching ministry of John the Baptist. What you might not know is why Luke quotes Isaiah's ancient prophecy and connects it with John's contemporary ministry of baptism. In other words, why – in the middle of telling us about the start of John's ministry – does Luke bring in Isaiah's description of the Jews' return from their Babylonian exile? The two events don't seem to have much in common. Historically speaking, they don't; however, prophetically speaking, the two are directly connected. In the 15 yrs. btw 597-582 BC, some 18,000 Jews were deported from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. In 538 BC, the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, defeated Babylon and gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland, the kingdom of Judea. Isaiah's prophecy, quoted by Luke, is part of a much larger prophecy called the Book of Consolation (Isa 40-55). This is Isaiah's description of his people's homecoming procession, their triumphant parade back to the land promised to them by God. Who leads this procession? God Himself. So, He makes the path back home straight, smooth; filling the valleys and leveling the hills. After 60 yrs of hardship in exile, the Lord brings His people home in style! John's mission is to bring God's people to Christ, to make our way to salvation a smooth, non-stop flight to the heavenly Jerusalem.

Earlier, I asked you if you were ready for the coming of the Christ. Are you prepared to receive him? Writing to the Philippians, Paul prays, “. . .that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness.” Paul is praying that the Christians in Philippi will continue to grow in that kind of love that brings them closer and closer to knowing intimately God's will for them, so that they will be able to distinguish good from evil, and remain wholly innocent until Christ's return. How do the Philippians remain in God's will until the Last Day? They work to produce “the fruits of righteousness,” that is, they bring about, make manifest words and deeds that demonstrate their right relationship with God. It's not enough for them to think good thoughts about Jesus. They are exhorted to produce outwardly, publicly evidence of their spiritual excellence by imitating Christ in the world. And these superior words and works will be spoken and done “for the glory and praise of God” and for no other reason. Paul writes, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it. . .” 

God has begun a good work in you, in all of us, and He intends to complete it. But His good work in each one of us cannot be completed unless we do our share of the heavy-lifting. He will not save us without our help. Over and over again, His people, Israel and Judea, committed adultery with the neighboring gods, sacrificing their righteousness on the foreign altars of oppression and injustice. By falling to their knees before idols, they fell in their holy duties to protect the innocent, the widowed, the orphaned, and the stranger. By worshiping things of their own making, they degraded themselves as things and sought to lift themselves up by pushing down those already pushed out by poverty, disease, and ignorance. Our Lord began a good work in His covenant with Abraham, but Abraham's children failed again and again to take up that good work and work with God's grace to make themselves into a blessed nation. For these failures, God allowed them to be defeated, exiled, and lost among the pagans. Some few remained faithful, and these He brought home. Because they worked with the good work He started in them, these few He returned to their promised land. 

God has begun a good work in you, in all of us, and He intends to complete it. So, how can we use this Advent to prepare for His good work to be completed? First, what good work He has started? For the whole Church, this good work is the work of being Christ in flesh and bone for the world. In other words, the Body of Christ must be the BODY of Christ—the hands, feet, eyes, ears of the Lord, speaking the Word, doing his will among the peoples and nations. For each one of us, this good work is defined by our individual gifts used in the service of the Body. What gifts has God given you? Has He given you a talent? Use it for the gospel. Has He given you time? Spend it on the gospel. Has He given you treasure? Invest it in the gospel. Next, we need to discern what it is that stands in the way of our good work. For Israel and Judea, it was their adultery with neighboring gods. They learned that we all become what we love most. So, what do you love among the idols of our perverse secular culture? Violence, death, promiscuity, the financial bottom-line; self-gratification before selfless service; untamed passions; or, do you claim to be a god yourself? In your pride, do you long to become a god w/o God and worship your own ego and id? God will allow it. He will also allow the consequences of our idolatry. 

Are you ready? Are you helping John the Baptist in straightening out your heart and smoothing down your mind? Christ comes to complete in you the good work his Father started. Are you listening to his herald and answering his cry for repentance? Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, they all warned God's people that their disobedience, their spiritual adultery would lead them into the wilderness of exile and defeat. And so it did. God brought them back to their promised land after two generations of living among their enemies, after more than 60 yrs. of purification and penance. Christ's Body, the Church—you, me, all of us together—must be the voice crying out in the desert, calling the world to repentance, calling it away from the edge of self-destruction. But our call is hollow and weak if we ourselves teeter on that same edge. A prophet must prophesy to himself first, and so the Church must preach to herself first. The Advent of the Christ Child is our time to get right with God, to get ourselves realigned with His perfect will, to be filled again with the love that created and re-created us in Christ. Look forward to his birth at Christmas, but look inward as well, look inward toward his birth in you, and love that child like he is your own, then, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God!”

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02 December 2015

Idolatry and Injustice

1st Week of Advent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

If we were to draw a graph representing the history of our collective relationship with God, this graph would be a long undulating line with very high peaks and very low valleys. When we are right with God, things are good, very good. However, when we are on the outs with the Lord, we are really, really out. Few Old Testament prophets articulate this riotous relationship btw Creator and creature better than Isaiah. For example, we heard read this morning Isaiah's description of one of those historical moments where God's blessings are being poured out on His faithful people. Isaiah delivers what has become the Father's cardinal promise: “. . .the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples. . .” What will He provide? Rich food and choice wines to celebrate our restoration to righteousness. And more importantly: “. . .he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples. . .he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces. . .” Not only does the Lord promise to care for the daily needs of His people, He promises to defeat Death and end forever the agony of our grieving. This promise is fulfilled in the advent of Christ Jesus, the food and drink of eternal life. 

If we were to think too long and too hard about the miseries of the human condition, we'd probably spend most of our days in tears, crying out to God for His justice against disease, hunger, and violence. Our supernaturally augmented ability to love one another makes it difficult for us to endure peaceably the savage injustices that nature inflicts on the least of God's children. Add to this misery the human talent to injure and kill, and we are sorely tempted to close our eyes and ears to the suffering that demands justice. The problems are so big, so deep, so vile that we are overwhelmed with their stench. What can we do to put an end to this madness? When we try, our efforts almost always seem small and useless. One reason for our apparent failure is that we often misdiagnosis the disease and apply the wrong remedies. Rather than treat the root cause of the problem, we choose to dabble in treating the presenting symptoms: poverty, social injustice, and ignorance. But what lies rotting at the heart of the disease is not a lack of wealth or racial inequality or inadequate education. The evil men do flows from the sin of pride, the hardening of his heart against God, and needful acts of loving-care and mercy we are commanded to perform.

When God's people in the Old Testament fell from grace, they fell for two reasons: 1) idolatry, a form of adultery committed by worshiping alien gods; and 2) injustice, the oppression of those most in need, a sin produced by idolatry. It should come as no surprise that when we commit adultery with alien gods, we also end up oppressing the least of God's children. What better way is there to express our willful independence from God than to offer praise and thanksgiving to our own creations? So, pride drives us to our knees before the idols of our own making. These gods never tell us anything we do not want to hear. They never demand anything from us that we do already want to give. In fact, they are nothing more than images of our own defective wills: the will to power, to succeed, to accumulate, to dominate, to control. It's just one tiny step from worshiping ourselves to oppressing the least among us. If I must worship me, then so must you. How then do we treat this disease? We come to believe that we are all creatures of a loving God who has commanded us to love one another in the same way that He loves us: sacrificially. He gave us His only Son in death so that death is no longer to be feared. Freed from this awful fear, and knowing that this world is always passing away, we can let go of our pride and receive the Lord's gift of bountiful mercy. This is how He cares for us: by making us like Him, like His Christ, and bringing us—if we will—to the perfection of His love.


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01 December 2015

A more perfect knowledge of God

NB. From 2009. . .
1st Week of Advent (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives thanks and praise to his Father for hiding the divine truth from the wise and learned, yet revealing this same truth to the childlike. He says to the disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” So, along with the wise and learned, prophets and kings are left in darkness, left to grope at the truth in their ignorance. As Dominicans and students studying at a Dominican university maybe we should be worried about this imposed darkness, just a little anxious about the glee with which Jesus consigns the learned to their adult cloud of not-knowing. Wasn't it our brother, Aquinas, who taught us how to treat theology as a science? Didn't he bring the pagan philosopher, Aristotle, into the mind of the Church and shape our faith with his metaphysical wisdom? Take a quick look at the courses we offer here at the Angelicum and decide if we—professors and students alike—belong to the wise and learned. Dialogical Theologies of Religion. Contemporary Philosophies of Theology. Nietzsche and Christianity. Gadamer's Hermeneutics. Heidegger's Essays. Whew! That's a lot of learning! But where are the courses on being childlike? Where do we learn the wisdom of a child's love for her mom and dad? Jesus prays, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” Our childlike wisdom starts with God's revelation.

In case you are worried that your preacher this morning is preaching Christian anti-intellectualism, let me quote Aquinas, “We have a more perfect knowledge of God by grace than by natural reason” (ST I.12.13). Limited as we are in understanding our finite world, imagine the limits of what we can know about the infinite divine! Relying on reason alone—the learning and wisdom of this world—we can glimpse some small portion of the divine in creation. But it is only through a divinely-graced intellect that we can achieve a more perfect knowledge of who God is. Through Christ our Father reaches down to lift us up so that we might see what the childlike already see: true wisdom, the knowledge that passes all understanding, begins and ends in His love for us. This is not anti-intellectualism; this is an intellect super-charged with the grace of revelation.
Jesus tells the disciples that they are blessed b/c they see and hear what prophets and kings long to see and hear but do not. What accident or disease has left these pitiable prophets and kings deaf and blind to God's truth? Is it that they are simply stupid, intellectually ungifted? Maybe they are stubborn or just lazy? No, none of these. Jesus says that he reveals the Father to those whom he chooses. And no one else sees or hears except those chosen. Among the disciples are tax-collectors, fishermen, even a physician but no prophets, priests, kings, or professors. Jesus reveals the Father to the Average Joe's of Judea, knowing that it will be they who make the best witnesses, knowing that the faith gifted to them would flourish in the hard world of work, persecution, and scarcity.

If this is true, surely then, students and professors have nothing to say to the world about Christ. No, we have our own work, our own forms of persecution and scarcity. But what we say about Christ and what we do in his name begins and ends with the love he reveals from the Father. Philosophy, theology, science can all show us some small portion of the truth if and only if our most basic assumptions and methods rest firmly on the knowledge that we are creatures, made in the image and likeness of our Creator. From this knowledge we can unravel the truths of our purpose and love both freely and recklessly.

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29 November 2015

Keep Judgment in Advent!

NB. OK. My excuse for this one: still on allergy/cold meds.

1st Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

We begin this evening our month-long waiting. Waiting for the birth of the Christ Child at Christmas, and waiting for his coming again as Christ the King in judgment. This year – like every year for the past 2,000 years – we will remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth to the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem. And – as we always have – we will observe a season of anticipation, a time before the celebration to prepare ourselves to receive Mary's child as he should be received. This season of expectancy also prepares us to wait in faith on the second coming of Christ as King and Judge. We know the date of Christ's birth among us. We know when it's time to welcome him with feasts and gifts and time with family and friends. So, we are always ready. . .just in time. However, we do not know the date of his return as King, when we will “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” So, we must always be ready. . .just in case. Therefore, we cannot let our hearts become drowsy; we cannot allow our minds to be numbed. We have four weeks to practice patient waiting. Stir-up your hearts and minds and prepare yourselves to receive him – the Christ Child and Christ the King!

We know Christmas is close. All the signs are there. Decorations. Carols. Black Friday sales. Sign-up sheets at work for the Christmas pot luck. Plans made with family. It's hard to miss these signs. Everywhere we turn, Christmas is standing right in front of us. Red, white, green. Santa Claus. TV specials. Gift lists. The signs of Christmas' coming are obvious, glaringly obvious. And b/c Christmas' imminent arrival tends to push Advent aside, we tend to forget that Advent is a season of expectancy for BOTH Christmas and the Second Coming, Christ's return to judge the living and the dead. If I were the Devil, I wouldn't change a thing about our current treatment of the post Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas season. I wouldn't shed one tear for poor little Advent's terrible plight. Why? B/c while God's children are focused almost exclusively on celebrating Christmas, they aren't getting ready for the Second Coming. Let them exchange gifts. Go to parties. Decorate til their hearts burst. Anything to keep them from seeing the signs of and making preparations for receiving Christ their King. Anything to occupy their hearts and minds other than their final judgment and eternal disposition.

Now, lest I sound like some crazy old priest who hates Christmas, let me say: I'm not suggesting that we turn Advent into a Lent-like dirge of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Advent is about preparing for the joys of Christmas! BUT it is also about preparing ourselves for the Second Coming of Christ. And if you think about it, this makes sense. He comes at Christmas as a child to save us from sin and death. He will come again as King to sit in judgment of our faithfulness. Our salvation deserves celebration, and our judgment requires preparation. We know how to celebrate. How do we prepare? Jesus warns his disciples, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and [the day of judgment] catch you by surprise like a trap.” Carousing, drunkenness, and anxiety – all three of these are distractions produced by the world to lull our hearts and minds into a spiritual coma. They are each designed to take us away from our careful preparations, away from our duty to be vigilant against sin and death. Is it enough to avoid carousing, drunkenness, and anxiety? No. It's a good start. A very good start. But our preparations for final judgment must be more substantial, deeper, more serious than simply avoiding sin.

While we avoid sin, we also turn ourselves toward God and receive every grace He has to give us. This means being awake, alert to His voice as He calls us to service. It means listening with the ears of Christ to those who long for God's mercy, who desperately seek His love; those who – for whatever reason – cannot or will not hear Him speak. At one time or another in our lives we have probably all deafened ourselves to God's voice. Why? He is telling us something we do not want to hear. He telling me that my favorite sin is in fact a sin. He's telling me that my preferred opinions are false. Maybe there was a crotchety old priest who said something dumb in the pulpit. Maybe your parents are horrible Catholic hypocrites. Maybe the Church takes a public stand against some issue you fervently support. Whatever it is – your ears close. If you can be here this evening, giving God thanks and praise, imagine those out there who can't or won't be here b/c they have stopped listening for God's voice. How will they hear about His love and mercy? How will they know that they no longer have to live in sin and suffer death? Our preparations for judgment must include being the merciful voice of God to those who cannot/will not hear Him speak.

Avoiding sin and being God's voice of mercy to the world are excellent starts on our Advent preparation. But there's something more we need to do. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, urging them “to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus. . .” We're in trouble here if we think that “holiness” has to do exclusively with moral goodness. Holiness leads to moral goodness, but moral goodness does not exhaust the meaning of holiness. To be holy is to be “set apart” from the world's influence and power. Not physically set apart, necessarily, but spiritually separated. Think about the daily decisions you make. How do you decide? Do you consider costs, consequences, and usefulness first? Or do you think first about how this decision will affect my relationship with God? Do you think about your needs first, your wants first? Or do you first think about others – family, neighbors, God? To be set apart from the world means to be separated from the way in which the world understands itself – as an independent accident of the universe with no dignity or purpose. We are holiest when we think with the mind of Christ; when we understand ourselves, all of God's creation as possessing inherent dignity and divine purpose.

If we will stand blameless in holiness before Christ the King on judgment day, we will prepare ourselves now, tomorrow, the next day, the next, and so on. . .until he returns. This doesn't mean giving up the joys of Christmas, but it does mean moving into the Advent season keenly aware that we are making ready for BOTH the Christ Child and Christ the King. Our hearts and minds can be made drowsy by the flashing lights and excessive partying and exhaustive shopping and family tensions. We can be swallowed up by the rip-tide expectations of the world and left rung out and beat up by the demands of secular culture. As children of God and siblings of Christ, we are freed from any expectation, any worry, and anxiety that moves us away from our faith; anything or anyone that demands that we put Christ in second-place behind whatever the world thinks belongs in first place. Spend these next four weeks cleaning out your heart and mind, removing whatever keeps you from receiving all that God has to give you. Prepare yourself for the birth of Christ and his coming again.


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25 November 2015

Are you in danger of being persecuted for the faith?

NB. from 2012. . .

34th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We can tell from this evening's reading that Jesus doesn't go out of his way to make Christianity a real attractive option. Can you imagine trying to get him elected to public office? Imagine having to go on FOXNews and explain away this campaign promise: “Vote for me and they will seize and persecute you. . .You will even be handed over by . . .relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. . .” Guess whose bumper sticker isn't going on my car! What's not entirely clear here is why we—as followers of Christ—will be persecuted. All Jesus says is that we'll be persecuted because of his name. St. John helps us out here a bit. He writes, “All the nations will come and worship before you, [Lord], for your righteous acts have been revealed.” When we live as followers of Christ, doing all that we have been commanded to do, we do all that we have been commanded to do in his name. For his sake. In other words, we work to reveal God's righteous deeds so that He gets the glory. For a world ruled by the Enemy, this sort of thing is bound to draw some negative attention. So, are you in any danger of being persecuted for revealing God's righteous acts to the world? 

We can narrow that question down a bit by focusing on just one of God's righteous acts: are you in any danger of persecuted for revealing God's righteous act of loving and forgiving His human children despite their obstinate rebelliousness and sin? You might think that our creation in love is the number one righteous act of God. But it is far more merciful to re-create than create, especially when your creatures fail so often in showing gratitude through humility. Our salvation through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is God's most righteous act b/c it involves our Creator in more than just bringing together dust and breath to create us. Once made by God in His image and likeness, and fallen into disobedience through pride, we are rescued by the flesh and blood of His Son. We are freely offered the chance to be re-made in the image and likeness of the Christ and to rise higher than the angels as His adopted heirs. It is the righteous act of our re-creation as Children of God in Christ that we are most obligated to reveal to the world. And it is evidence of this infinitely merciful act that the rulers of this world will kill to keep from being brought into the public square. 

So, let's change up the question: do you live in a such a way that your life would be recognized as evidence that God's infinite mercy is freely available to anyone who longs to be re-made in the image and likeness of Christ? If so, then Jesus' warning of persecution in tonight's gospel is for you. If not, why bother with this difficult path? What drew you to Christ in the first place? Did someone reveal a righteous act of God to you and entice you to follow along? It can't be the promise of eternal life b/c that promise is kept for those who are unashamed of Christ. Maybe you were responding to that gnawing emptiness that living without purpose feeds. Or maybe you recognized in yourself the capacity to love sacrificially and now find yourself struggling along with the rest of us to take baby steps along the Way. How about this: the further away from God you got, the harder you ran, the tighter He held on and you just decided that all those mushy ideas like love, mercy, forgiveness, hope, faith are all stronger than your desire to sin and so here you are? That too is a righteous act of God. Leave here tonight and reveal this deed to the world: here you are b/c God's love for you is always stronger than the Enemy's hatred of Him and of His.


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24 November 2015

Permanent renewal, persistent peace. . .

NB. A 2009 Roman homily preached at the Angelicum's English Mass.
St Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Anything that can be put together can be taken apart. Anything fixable is breakable. If it can be composed, formed, or united, it can be decomposed, unformed, and disunited. The material universe rises from the play of order and chaos, making and unmaking. You do not have to be a mystic to realize that impermanence is the way of all things. Visit a maternity ward. And then a graveyard. The two are inevitably bound together by the passage of time. Some of us find this truth to be a source of anxiety, a point for jumping off into the abyss of meaninglessness. Some are indifferent, challenged nonetheless by the competition to survive. And others are delighted at the prospect of death, rushing headlong to their end, encouraged by the possibility of immortality. Since humans started thinking about the purpose of their lives, each of these responses to impermanence—anxiety, indifference, and delight—each of these has had its philosophical and theological defenders. The gospel preached by Christ and his Church offers another alternative, another way to live the joys and pains of passing through God's creation: permanent renewal, persistent peace.

Pointing to the temple and its splendor, Jesus says to the crowd, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” For a people whose lives are centered on the worship of God, such a prediction must have shocked them. How can something as monumental, as stable as the temple crumble? How can our connection to God be thrown down? They want to know when this horror will occur and how will they know that it is coming? Jesus gives no date, no day and time. He doesn't even hint at a season. Instead, he points them to the impermanence of creation, the chaos of human life: earthquakes, famines, plagues, insurrections, wars, awesome signs from the sky. Had someone from the crowd yelled out to Jesus, “But these happen all the time!” Jesus would have answered, “Yes, they do.” Those with eyes to see and ears to hear would have taken his point. We are always in the midst of destruction, the failure of creation's fall. Therefore, put your love, your hope, your faith in the only place left untouched by the currents of chaos. Store up all you treasure in the promises of eternal life.

Does this mean then that we must abandon creation to its fate? Do we run for the hills with our guns and provisions, waiting for The End? No. Though we may be tempted to hide from the world while we hold out against the enemy, our charge as followers of Christ is to save the world not abandon it. Jesus doesn't predict the destruction of the temple in order to warn the crowd away from its fall. He warns them of its collapse so that they will know where they should store their treasured faith. Not in buildings or votive offerings or adornments. But in their humble and contrite hearts. What our Father wants from His children is that we should live as if the temple has already been destroyed, as if we were already in His presence—face-to-face—daily, even now. Then, like Christ, our trust in Him is lived in the world as a sign of His love and mercy. We are His temples; we are His tabernacles. And as such we are—ultimately—indestructible.

Christians do not have the luxury of anxiety, indifference, or a heroic delight in death. All of these abandon us to the currents of The Fall. All of these tell us that we have no purpose, no goal, that there is nothing more, nothing beyond the stones and mortar of a universe well-made to fall. Instead, we are vowed to travel through this world as living, breathing sanctuaries of His presence. Having placed all we love, all we hope for, all we trust in in the hands of the One Who brings us peace, we become His peace, the peace among wars and insurrections, tools for rescue and renewal.


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22 November 2015

Are you a king?

Christ the King
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Pilate wants to know. He wants to know whether or not Jesus is the King of the Jews. Or does he? He asks the question. But is he genuinely curious. . .or, is he simply doing his duty as governor? Pilate knows that a “king” pops up in Judea on a regular basis, vowing to run the hated Romans out of town. He knows these “kings” are always crazy on religion, and promising to re-establish the Davidic kingdom. But the “king” standing in front of him on this day is different. The rabble seem to hate him. That's unusual. The Jewish priests hate him. . .but they always hate the zealots. So, what's so different about this Jesus character? Pilate says, “Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Expecting to hear some sort of religious mumbo-jumbo that only matters to the priests, Pilate must've been taken aback when Jesus replies, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Roman governors are accustomed to rebels and terrorists; they are used to having to mediate between local factions, warring over a throne. What they aren't used to – what Pilate cannot be used to – is hearing a royal prisoner say, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. . .For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. . . .”

To be a king he was born, and to be a king he came into the world. Not to rule from a throne in a palace, or from an office in a capitol but to announce and establish a kingdom founded on his Father's mercy, a kingdom ruled by the hearts and minds of repentant sinners and turned to the hard work of serving the least of God's people. Somewhat dumbfounded, Pilate asks, “Then you are a king?” But Jesus doesn't take the bait. Instead, he says, “You say I am a king.” Pilate wants to know whether or not Jesus is claiming to be one of those militant kings who rise up on occasion to challenge Rome. But Jesus isn't playing that game. He's teasing Pilate with the truth. But Pilate can't hear the truth. He can't see it standing right in front of him. So, Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Those who belong to the truth belong to Christ, and he is their King. Not by right of election or conquest or inheritance. But as disciples, students of the truth, Truth Himself, the Christ. Pilate is no disciple, so he infamously asks, “What is truth?” You can almost see Jesus shaking his head in pity.

And it is a pitiful question – what is truth? We could believe that Pilate is asking a philosophical question, a question posed to uncover a bit of wisdom. Or we could believe that he is simply being cynical, asking the question rhetorically like he might at a dinner party. Or we could believe that Pilate – living 2,000 years ago – is a thoroughly modern man, one who uses the human tools of language, law, and logic to hold divine truth at bay. I hear despair in Pilate's question. I hear, “What's the point of asking these questions and answering them? Nothing matters in the long run. All we have is what's in front of us.” Pilate's question – asked as it is, when it is – is a coward's question. We know it's a coward's question b/c his decisions to release a criminal and execute the Savior are calculated, political acts made to quell the anger of the mob and deflect criticism from Rome. Asking “what is truth?” is a simpler way of asking “does the truth really matter?” Pilate – a hopeless bureaucrat stuck in a rebellious podunk province on the backside of the Empire – takes the coward's way out. He follows the King of This World and sends an innocent man to his gruesome death. He is modern man writ small, an emblem of despair when confronted by truth.

We celebrate Christ as King to be reminded that while we are citizens living in this world, we are not of this world. Our ultimate citizenship lies in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even while we live and die here on earth – doing all the things that people do – we know that our time here is short, that our time here will run out. What then? If we were to follow Pilate and his modern logic, we would simply cease to exist. We'd hang around in the memories of family and friends. There'd be photographs and other small monuments of our passing through. But we would be nothing, no-thing after death. Do we live now to die and disappear sometime later on? No, the disciples of truth do not; we do live in this world, but we do not die as its citizens. We live now as disciples of the King and live forever as his subjects! What passes for courage in this world is foolishness in heaven. What passes for strength and honor and intelligence in this world will be weakness, cowardice, and stupidity in the kingdom to come. Pilate was not an evil man. He was blind and deaf. He could not see nor hear the truth standing in front of him, offering him a way out of his despair. Are you a king? You say that I am.

Do you say that Christ is king? Do you believe that Christ is the king of your life, your death, and your resurrection? If so, do you live as his loyal subject, living in this world – as we all must – but knowing that your end is in heaven? When we live with Christ as King, we turn our hearts and minds to him when we speak and act; we take his teaching as truth before we decide; we hold his sacrifice on the cross as an example of supreme love when we serve; we look to him for advice, permission, to receive the gift of who we are for him; he is for us the center and the foundation of our lives. Day in and day out. The cornerstone of all that we do in this world. Opposition, persecution, temptation, and sin peck away at your loyalty to the King, but nothing and no one can topple his rule in your life. . .unless you yourself renounce his kingship and give yourself back to the darkness of this world. You can live in Pilate's world: power, wealth, oppression of the weak, violence, despair. You can be of his world: popularity, compromise, betrayal, cowardice. Or, you can live under the rule of Christ the King and see through the impermanence of the Enemy's power and look on the glory of God, face-to-face. . .when His kingdom is fulfilled.

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15 November 2015

What is Jesus waiting for. . .?

33rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Watching the news these past few days, I can't help but hear, whispering behind reports of war, riots, famine, economic collapse, the dooming rhythm of Yeats, reading his visionary poem, “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” This is 1919. Just one year after 16 million soldiers are killed in WWI. Just one year after Europe ends its suicidal slaughter for the glory of kings and parliaments. And just 13 years before a former corporal in the Austrian army is appointed Chancellor in Germany. His reign will end in 1945 with the deaths of more than 70 million. Yeats: “Surely some revelation is at hand;/Surely the Second Coming is at hand./The Second Coming!” Jesus assures his disciples that he will come again. He came to us first as a Child and next as Judge and King. When? “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, as we prepare to wait for his birth in Bethlehem, we wait for his coming again in glory.

Though it is not yet Advent, that time when we wait in anticipation for the birth of Christ, we celebrate another sort of Advent this evening, a Second Advent, celebrated everyday, every hour since Christ's resurrection from the tomb. Jesus warns his disciples that after his death, “False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead. . .the elect. Be watchful!” And despite this warning, many of his disciples through the centuries have been misled. Some by a Roman emperor. Others by Greek heresies. Many by charismatic monks and holy women. Millions were led astray by clever theological argument. And millions more by atheistic science, utopian fantasy, secular political ideology, and the temporary treasures of Mammon. How many have been duped by New Age gibberish, or the slick sales pitch of 21st century humanists? Jesus calls this long, painful falling away from the apostolic faith, a tribulation; that is, the threshing of a harvest to separate the wheat from the chaff, the strong in faith from the Convenient Christian.

After this tribulation, he says, “. . .the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky. . .” And as nature convulses in its announcement, we “will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory. . .” His angels will “gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” Seeing on the faces of his disciples the same expression that most of you have now, Jesus answers the unspoken question: “When [the fig tree's] branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that [the Son of Man] is near, at the gates.” When is the Christ coming again? When will the Son of Man be near the gates? When we see the sun and moon eclipsed and stars shooting through the sky. When, as regularly as the changing of the seasons, the blooming of the fig trees, we see men and women misled by false prophets and fake Messiahs. He will come again when “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” In other words, he is always prepared to come again, so we must always be ready to receive him. When “the best lack all conviction,” and “the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” his Church must be passionately convicted in her faith, waiting for his arrival with an intense hope.

Obscure apocalyptic passages like this one from Mark serve a specific purpose in the life of the Church. Rather than tempting us with the useless task of figuring out the hour and day of Christ's return, these passages urge us to hold firm in the faith and live with the hope that Christ's resurrection promises. Rather than scaring us silly with tales of the imminent destruction of the world and threats of eternal damnation, these passages report events that have already taken place in history; or events that are occurring at the time the passage was written; or events that recur in history over and over again. Their purpose is to reassure us that there is nothing particularly poignant about the social, economic, religious convulsions that we are living through. Has there been a century in 5,000 yrs of human history w/o a solar or lunar eclipse, a meteor shower? A decade unscathed by war, plague, poverty, or natural disaster? We don't need to know when Christ will return. All we need to know is that he will, and that our task is to be ready: free from all anxiety, utterly at peace. We wait. But are we ready?

We might wonder: what’s Jesus waiting for? Surely the world cannot be a bigger mess; surely we cannot become more self-destructive, angrier, greedier, more hostile to peace and the poor! Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear bomb. Europe is experiencing a near-invasion from Syria. ISIS is systematically butchering its enemies, daring the West to invade. And here in the U.S. we seem hellbent on defying both divine and natural law. What's he waiting on? He’s waiting on you. On me. On all of us. He waiting for us and our repentance. Peter asks an excellent question: “Since all [of creation is] thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. . .?” While we wait on the destruction of the world, what sort of persons should we be? What kind of person should you be, if you want to hasten the Christ's second coming? If his coming again seems to be taking too long, Peter reminds us: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The day and hour of the Second Coming matches perfectly the day and hour of our repentance, our return to righteousness in Christ.

Have you been through the tribulation long enough? Have you been thoroughly threshed? If not, think about your tipping point. What will it take to turn you around, back to God? You see, the threshing process we all go through can take days or decades; it can be a slow, agonizing process, resulting in cuts and bruises; or a quick, painless beating with a feather. It all depends on how eager we are to be threshed; that is, it all depends on what sort of persons we want to be while the world circles the bowl. Peter's question—“what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”—answers itself. Living a life of holiness and godliness makes you a holy and godly person. While the world self-destructs, a godly and holy people will hear and see the Word at work in the world; preach and teach the Good News of repentance and forgiveness; do good works for the glory of God; grow and grow in holiness not just by avoiding sin but by embracing grace as well. So, while we wait for the Second Coming, let's hasten Christ's arrival by making our every word, our every move shout joy to the world so that no one is left behind, so that every eye can see and every ear hear that God freely offers His mercy to sinners through the once-for-all sacrifice of His Son on the Cross.

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