16 July 2015


15th Week OT (Thur): Ex 3.13-20; Matt 11.28-30
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

God reveals Himself to Moses on Mt Horeb as “ipsum esse subsistens.”* Who God Is and That God Is are identical. As Being Himself there is no difference between God's essence (who) and His existence (that). No difference, no distinction. Using the first person imperfect of the Hebrew verb “to be,” God unveils the mystery of His abiding presence to Moses as: I AM Who Is. At this revelation we are stunned into reverent silence. It is unlikely that any limited creature will truly grasp the full measure of this unveiled mystery. So, we must ask: who among us, when pressed with disaster, cries out: “Being Itself! Help me!”? Who among us, when possessed by joy, sings: “Ipsum Esse Subsistens, I give you thanks!”? None of us gets out of bed on Sunday morning to offer praise and thanksgiving to Essential Existence. No Christian soul searches for love in I AM WHO AM. Our faith and hope excel in a God Who has always, is now, and will always be our Father, our brother, and our very life here on earth and in heaven to come. 
Along with preaching his Good News, Jesus spends a great deal of time warning anyone who will listen that the Way back to the Father is an adventure worthy of heroes. There will be great deeds performed by those of us who follow him: moments of triumph over evil; terrible injustices rectified; diseases and infirmities cured; demonic spirits expelled. We will also suffer harrowing tests: religious and political persecution; exile and torture; and even death for the sake of his name. To join this salvation epic all we must do is abandon family and friends; shrug off wealth and prestige; go out into the desert of selfless service; and follow behind him, bearing our crosses to a sacrificial end. He promises us suffering, and our deaths are guaranteed. How strange is it then that we hear Jesus say this morning, “...my yoke is easy, and my burden light”? What's so easy and light about torture and death?! Wealth and security sound much easier and a whole lot lighter! For that matter, I am not particularly soothed by the prospect of being water-boarded defending the honor of Essential Existence.

Fair enough, pain and suffering do not seem to be much of an incentive to risk life and limb in the defense of Esse Subsistens. But do wealth, prestige, and the boredom of security offer us the adventure of preaching the Good News of God's mercy, of bringing the lost back into the family, of living lives steeped in the luxury of knowing that we serve a God of loving-care? Can anyone we attach ourselves to in this world offer us a life beyond temporary affection? Can anything we own guarantee happiness beyond its limited warranty? Even the praise of our fellow citizens fades and the awards we win get dusty and dry. Nothing created—no existing thing—can ever bring us to the excellence that God has created us to be. With Him—Perfect Being—we are made fully human, impeccably whole. Will you suffer and die for the sake of sharing in this promised glory?

God unveils the mystery of His Being to Moses. To Moses God is revealed as I AM WHO IS and WHO WILL ALWAYS BE. But He says to Moses as well, “I have watched over you with care; I am concerned about you and My people. Go tell them that I have sent you to deliver them from the misery of slavery for My sake.” To Moses Ipsum Esse Subsistens promises deliverance and He does exactly that. To us, He not only promises deliverance from slavery, He promises an eternal life with Him in Christ. The Father promises; the Son delivers; and the Love they share comes with us on the Way, lifting the burden of our labors by showing us how to love one another as God Himself loves. Even the sweatiest work is made easy when it is done for love.

* "Subsistent Being Itself" is Aquinas' description of God's nature.
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15 July 2015

Coffee Cup Browsing (Wednesday)

Free exercise of religion? Nuns forced to buy condoms and the Pill. 

Progressive Catholic Authoritarianism

Wow. Nobody saw this coming: gay Scout Masters

I'm a Christian, not a bigot.

Real Liberals would support tax-exemptions for churches.

The academic agenda of hate and exclusion


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Here I am?

St. Bonaventure
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

Moses finds a bush burning in the desert. The bush is burning, but it is not reduced to ash. Both surprised and curious, Moses wants to know why the bush is not consumed by the fire. As he approaches this “remarkable sight,” a voice calls out, “Moses, Moses.” Hearing his name spoken in fire, Moses stops, screams like a scalded camel, and runs home in terror! When he tells the story of the flaming shrub, no one in his family believes him. After years of therapy, Moses concludes that the whole incident resulted from dehydration, low blood-sugar, and a deeply embedded sub-conscious fear of vegetation. He resumes his work as a shepherd and avoids contact with anything that might be called bramble, hedge, or scrub. He dies a very old man secure in his well-managed anxiety around wilderness foliage. How do you react to God's voice flaming out at you? Do you scream and run in terror? Or do you follow the real Moses' example and answer, “Here I am”?

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger recalls the difficult process of writing his second dissertation, a work on St Bonaventure's theology of history.* He writes that one of his readers had rejected his thesis because of its modern research methods and radical theological conclusions regarding the nature of divine revelation. What was so radical about the future Pope Benedict XVI's views on revelation? The young Ratzinger argued that divine revelation is “the act in which God shows himself. . .” Is this a fine distinction that only a German theologian could love? Not at all. From this distinction, Ratzinger concludes that God's Self-revelation must be witnessed by someone in order to be a revelation at all. He writes, “Where there is no one to perceive 'revelation,' no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed.” For our future Pope, the perceiving subject of divine revelation is the Church and the Church's understanding of God's revelation is contained in tradition. Because of this “dangerous modernism,” Joseph the student was sent back to his desk to try again. Despite this setback, he won his doctorate. And he won the argument.*

My fictional Moses, the terrified shepherd, chose to flee God's revelation and rationalize his encounter with the fiery voice of the shrub as a product of physical ills and psychological trauma. Perhaps we can forgive this fantasy version of Moses b/c we might be tempted to follow his example! Fortunately, the real Moses, upon hearing his name called from the fire, approached the bush and said instead, “Here I am.” Moses surrenders his courageous heart to this world's most dangerous message: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lives and He has a job that needs to be done. Because he bravely stepped forward and answered to his name, Moses is sent to free God's people from slavery in Egypt. And like any of us given a similar task, Moses says, “What?! Me!? Who I am to do this work?!” 
As the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, we are each called by name and sent out to do the work of freeing God's people from slavery. This might be the literal slavery of child-trafficking or forced prostitution. This might be the slavery of poverty or political and religious oppression. This might be the slavery of individual disobedience and personal vice. Whatever face slavery wears, the chains that bind are held fast by sin and the fear of death. Liberation for slaves begins when they are told that the Pharaoh of Sin is powerless, his armies defeated, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has commanded him to “let My people go.” Liberation for the slaves arrives when they receive this revelation and begin to live lives freed from Pharaoh's rule. Where the dignity of the human person is violated by sin, the message of freedom in Christ must be announced. And when this revelation is received, it must be lived. Not only by the one who hears it but by the one who speaks it as well.

Who am I to do this work? Who are you? If we say to the burning bush—wherever it may appear—“Here I am,” we become ones sent to announce freedom from sin in Christ. First, we are called, then we call. First, we are freed, then we free. We become exactly who God calls us to be. And who is that? Christ dying on his cross for the salvation of the world.

* Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, pg 108.


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14 July 2015

Coffee Cup Browsing

Coming out of the coffin: accepting the vampire lifestyle. Ummmm, no.

Who does the Left fear most for 2016

Dressing for Church: a few suggestions. The Good Monsignor is braver than I.

Planned Parenthood exec caught on tape talking about selling fetus body parts after partial-birth abortion. Disgusting. 

Spiritual but not religious: no, you're probably neither.


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Sin/Death = Prison/Cemetery

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

Are there any better symbols of sin and its consequences than the prison and the cemetery? Disobedience and death. In the first few lines from his novel, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne brings his readers to witness a dreary gathering, a scene heavy with sin, punishment, and individual failure: “The founders of a new colony, whatever the Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” Before the prison-door stand “a throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats. . .” This crowd of utopian worthies has “assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.” With the grim certainty of those who believe themselves innocent of sin, the earliest Bostonians wait outside their “ugly edifice” for the village's latest sinner to emerge, to show herself as one chastened by “the black flower of civilized society, a prison.” Hearing Jesus speak so disparagingly of the citizens of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernuam, we might wonder if Hawthorne is right: despite our deepest desires for holiness, our most strenuous work to do the good, and the constant offer of redemption from the Father through His Son, we are doomed to reject the Holy Spirit's ministry among us and fill our prisons to breaking only to end up stocking our cemeteries for eternity. Is our story, as Hawthorne describes the life of Hester Prynne, “a tale of human frailty and sorrow”?

It would grossly irresponsible of us to see only the good in our hearts, ignoring the siren call of sin so that we could pretend innocence like those waiting outside Hester's prison-cell. We would be equally irresponsible if we were to make our lives into a paranoid vigil against every impulse, every natural instinct that comes with knowing the difference between good and evil. We give life to the same pride that brought down our first parents when we dwell obsessively on our failures in a quest for a purity that lies beyond our unaided reach. We can be pure. But not by ourselves. Though our prisons and cemeteries mark the consequences of human sin, Christ is the rose-bush flowering outside our cell-door, along side our tombstones. He is for us “some sweet moral blossom...that relieve[s] the darkening close of [our] tale...” But he is more than that: with us he is our holiest spirit; for us he is the only light in the darkness of our sin.

Jesus rails against the stubborn hearts of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, condemning their blindness to his mighty deeds and offer of salvation. We know that he is rejected as a heretic and demon by the temple, as a rebel by the empire, and possibly as a madman by most of those who hear him. The audacity of his message is too much to hear: the Father and I are one; He has sent me to you as your lamb of sacrifice; believe in me and you will be saved from sin and death. Too easy, too neat, too much for a disobedient heart that has grown muscular on the hard labor of chasing after salvation. There must be more to it than simple trust in God and love of neighbor!

How like the Psalmist we can be when we find ourselves doubting God's mercy: “I am sunk in the abysmal swamp where there is no foothold; I have reached the watery depths; the flood overwhelms me.” We may have escaped the prison, but the cemetery is not far away. Or is it? “But I pray to you, O Lord, for the time of your favor, O God! In your great kindness answer me with your constant help.” And how does the Lord answer us in our mire? “Turn to me in your need, and you will live.” Even as we indulge the folly of believing ourselves innocent, even as we grow more and more foolish in our refusal to turn our hearts to the mighty deeds of God, He says to us, “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” This promise is Christ among us. No prison door remains locked. No tombstone stands against our eternal lives.

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12 July 2015

We might exist for the praise of his glory

15th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Before God got a hold on him, Amos was a sheepherder and a tree surgeon. Before God found him on the road to Damascus, Paul was a lawyer and a zealous persecutor of Christians. Before Jesus walked past Matthew, he was a tax collector; James, John, Peter were fishermen; Luke was a doctor. What about Mary? She was a teenaged girl betrothed to Joseph. We have a prophet, twelve apostles, and the Mother of God. From who and what they were before hearing their call, all these ordinary people became extraordinary players in even more extraordinary events. Amos is called to chastise a corrupt priest of the royal court. Paul is called to cease his persecution of Jesus' followers and become one of them. The other apostles are all called to leave their ordinary jobs, to become students of the Master, and give their lives to the preaching of the Good News. And Mary, a virgin girl, is called to become the woman who bears Christ into the world. By the Word of our loving God, ordinary people—just plain folks—are pulled out of the tedious minutiae of just getting through another day and fashioned into instruments of the Divine Will and set out to accomplish a divine purpose. If God will use shepherds, fishermen, a doctor, and a virgin girl to complete His work, why wouldn't He use you, use any one of us? 
If called upon to serve a divine purpose most of us would probably react the same way most of the Biblical figures reacted: Who me? Why me? I'm just a bank teller, a cashier, a stay-at-mom, a fast food cook! I'm just a high school graduate; I barely passed my religion classes; I don't like to speak in public; I'm a Big Sinner, probably the Biggest! Given enough time, we could find a thousand and one reasons to avoid being called, a thousand and one excuses not to do whatever ridiculous and potentially embarrassing job God wants us to do. And if we couldn't find the one thousand and second excuse, we'd make one up! Alright, maybe I'm projecting here, maybe I'm telling you more about how I reacted to the call than predicting how you might react. But my point should be clear: when pressed into divine service, quite a few of us truly believe that we are unworthy of the honor, unfit for the job. And we're right to believe it. We are unworthy, unfit to do God's will. . .that is, until He makes us both worthy and fit, until He gifts us with all that we need to accomplish the work He's given us to do. To the shepherd Amos, He gives a prophet's voice. To the Pharisee, Paul, He gives a motivating vision. To Peter, John, James, Andrew, all the apostles, He gives knowledge, wisdom, and authority. And to Mary, He gives a sinless start. What gifts has He given you so that you might complete His work?

Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus, assuring them that he is absolutely confident that they have received their gifts from God and that they have the will and fervor necessary to use those gifts in God's service. When he writes his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is a prisoner of the Roman Empire and from his prison cell he preaches the gospel of freedom in Christ. He shouts out God's Word across the known world. Amos, a sheep-herder and dresser of sycamores, is sent by God to prophesy to Israel. Angrily confronted by the priest, Amaziah, and ordered to leave the temple, Amos says, “I was sent by God to speak His word.” And Jesus, calling the Twelve together, sends his friends into the world, giving them authority to command unclean spirits, to preach and to teach. A prisoner, a sheep-herder, a tax-collector, a handful of fishermen, a doctor, and a few ambitious corporate climbers—all chosen, all taught, all sent to do one thing: speak the Living Word of God in spirit and in truth so that the heirs of the Father might know that their inheritance is at hand. Not one of these apostles or prophets goes willingly. Not one goes without apprehension. Not one of them leaves to do God's will without believing that he is unprepared, unworthy. But they go b/c they trust that God prepares them and makes them worthy to bring His will to completion. 

As baptized men and women, we have already accepted the call from God to be His apostles, to be those who go out and preach His gospel in word and deed. As the Body of Christ together in this building, we are here to say “Amen, so be it” to God's charge that we become Christs where we are. And though we may believe ourselves unprepared and unworthy, we are nonetheless vowed to do exactly that. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul takes the time to describe to his brothers and sisters the origin and flowering of their work as heirs to the kingdom. His detailed account of their creation in love and their recreation in Christ's sacrifice is not just pretty theological rhetoric. His goal is to open their eyes and ears to the truth of their identity as ones who have been picked out, selected to do the job God has given them to do. Do you feel unprepared? Who doesn't? Nonetheless, you are a daughter of the Father, an heir. Are you unworthy? Who isn't? Nonetheless, you are a son of the Father, an heir. Are you a prisoner? A shepherd? A fisherman? Probably not. Are we without tools? Training? Experience? Maybe. Nonetheless, we are sent. The only important question now is: will we go? Or will we wrack our brains to invent that one thousand and second excuse to leave God's gifts untouched and go on with the tedious business of just another day? Or maybe, we are willing to pick up His gifts and do His will there's something or someone stopping us. Amos is threatened by a priest who invokes both divine and worldly power. Paul is threatened by imperial Rome. The apostles are threatened by temple, empire, and the rulers of this world—priests, soldiers, and demons. Though threatened from every direction by every force available, Amos, Paul, and the apostles go out anyway and do what their Father has commanded them to do. 

Who or what is stopping you? The government? Your spouse? The kids? Your job? If so, listen again to Paul, the prisoner of Rome: “In [Christ] we were. . .chosen, destined. . .so that we might exist for the praise of his glory...In [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, [you also] were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance. . .” What worldly power can un-choose you? What relationship do you enjoy that trumps your inheritance as a child of the Father? What deficiency in training, moral purity, motivation, or intelligence can defeat the promise of your baptism? “In accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us,” we are free from every deficiency that limits us, holds us back, or fights to defeat us. His grace, His gifts are lavished upon us and in harmony with these gifts we are forgiven our transgressions and sent out as apostles to give testimony to the freedom we enjoy as God's possessions. So, if we are timid or lax or afraid of doing what we have already promised to do, then it is more than past time to ask for strength, determination, and courage. There's work to be done, God's work. And when we do this work with the Holy Spirit, we are more than merely capable; we are made worthy, fit, and thoroughly prepared. In His truth, we are truly blessed. 

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Coffee Cup Browsing (Sunday)

No. The Pope did not call capitalism "the dung of the devil."  

"Capitalism has always been a revolutionary force and when traditional institutions of various sorts have gotten in its way, they have rarely been spared."  To wit: the Protestant Reformation.

Plain dress, religious habits: the importance of public symbols of faith.

A review of Fr. Driscol's mystery novels. . . 

Nothing New Under the Sun: SSM and the early Church

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