22 August 2015

Our definitive deliverance from evil

NB. From 2012. . .I'll be con-celebrating the opening Mass of the academic year tomorrow at Notre Dame Seminary.

21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

AUDIO file

Before his disciples and a curious and quarrelsome crowd, our Lord teaches his most sensational lesson, saying, “. . .my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” There must've been a pause, a small moment of total silence for the import of this outrageous claim to sink in. His disciples, his best students and closest friends, start murmuring, perhaps trying to find some sense in his words, or perhaps they are questioning their decision to follow a mad man. They ask, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Is this a challenge, like a dare? I dare you to accept! Or is it a declaration of disbelief, an incredulous outcry? No one can believe this nonsense! Or is it something more subtle and strange, like a question that answers itself and in doing so blows away the closed doors and rusty locks of ignorance? Jesus knows their hearts and so he asks, “Does this shock you?” If the disciples answered him, we do not know what they said. What do you say? More importantly, if you eat his flesh and drink his blood, are you prepared to live in Christ and have him living in you? 

Many in that curious and quarrelsome crowd were shocked. Some who were shocked walk away from Christ and “return to their former way of life. . .” Watching them as they walk away, Jesus turns to his closest friends and students and asks, “Do you also want to leave?” Is he worried that they might leave him? Is he indifferent? Angry? He gives them a choice: stay and follow me to eternal life, or leave and follow death to eternal darkness. As usual, Simon Peter speaks for the disciples, “Master, to whom shall we go?” Who else teaches the Father's truth? Who else can show us the Way? Who else can feed us with the bread of heaven? Peter then explains his response, “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Are the disciples shocked? Yes. Shocked into belief and conviction; shocked into the truth of Jesus' outrageous claims; shocked by the hard reality that standing with them is divine truth given flesh and blood. All that they have ever sought, all that they have ever truly needed. . .is with them: body, blood, soul, and divinity—the Holy One of God. Again, if you eat his flesh and drink his blood, are you prepared to live in Christ and have him living in you? Are you prepared? 

Before you answer, please bear with me as I read a longish passage from BXVI's 2007 exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis: “In the sacrament of the altar,. . .the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom. Since only the truth can make us free, Christ becomes for us the food of truth. . .Each of us has an innate and irrepressible desire for ultimate and definitive truth. The Lord Jesus. . .speaks to our thirsting, pilgrim hearts. . .our hearts longing for truth. Jesus Christ is the Truth in person, drawing the world to himself. 'Jesus is the lodestar of human freedom: without him, freedom loses its focus, for without the knowledge of truth, freedom becomes debased, alienated and reduced to empty [whim]. With him, freedom finds itself '”(2). That's a lot to take in, I know. But here's what I hope you heard: as rational creatures created by a loving Creator, we are made to long for the Good and the Real; we desire Truth and Freedom; and we have come to believe and are convinced that Christ Jesus is our Truth, our Freedom, our Good, and our most basic Reality. “In the sacrament of the altar,” our Holy Father writes, “. . .the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom.” Are you prepared to receive the truth and freedom of the Lord? 

Before you answer, bear with me one more time as I read another passage from the Holy Father's work: “The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of 'nuclear fission,'. . .which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all”(11). When we celebrate the Mass, when we witness the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and when we commune on his sacrament, we begin a process that radically changes all that is real; reconfigures at the root of reality not only our individual lives but our communal life together so that God might work through His love in me, you, and all of us at once to bring His whole creation to redemption. Fission sparks out, dividing into smaller and smaller parts. When we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we are saying, “Yes, Lord, I will go out and be Your love in the world so that the world will see in me what You see in Your Son!” Are you prepared to be a spark for the radical transfiguration of the world in Christ? If not, walk away. “Does this shock you?. . .The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.” 

Our Holy Father [BXVI], mediating on the Jewish origins of the Mass writes, “. . .[The] Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus' death. . .became in him a supreme act of love and mankind's definitive deliverance from evil.” The supreme act of love and our deliverance from evil. We are delivered from evil in this sacrament of love. But finding ourselves so delivered, what next? Freed from the Enemy and set loose to return to the world, what next? Here we are flush with the recreating love of God and wholly prepared to participate in the radical transfiguration of the world and. . .what? We go out and we keep on doing all that we have done here and will do here. Gather in his holy name with family and friends. Confess our faults and receive His mercy. Listen to His Word and give witness to His mighty deeds. Give thanks and praise for His abundant blessings. Sacrifice in love and offer one another to Him in prayer. Seek out all that is true, good, and beautiful, and exhaust ourselves in being true, good, beautiful for others. Invite the stranger. Fight against injustice. Visit the sick, the dying, the lonely. Take Christ's light anywhere and everywhere darkness hopes to rule. 

If there is one evil we must resist in 2012, it is the evil that tempts us to turn inward and away from the world; tempts us to hide the light of Christ for the sake of a worldly peace, a peace settled against the Church through fear and intimidation. This is why I have asked you if you are prepared to be a spark for the radical transfiguration of the world. Even as we move out of the sanctuary, suffused with the love of Christ, we are met with demands that we silence our praise and thanksgiving for the sake of propriety. That we continue our good works but cease offering them for the greater glory of God. Without Christ, we can do nothing good. Without Christ, we are nothing. Christ is who and what we are. And when we step outside these walls, if we are prepared, we take him—Body and Blood—into a world dying for its Creator. You—each of us—leaves here as a spark shot from the Sacramental Fission of the Eucharist. If Christ lives in you, bring him to another and another. Go out there and set fire to a world that's falling quickly into darkness. Make it a holy conflagration, a world set ablaze in the love of the Holy Spirit.

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16 August 2015

Wisdom not foolishness

20th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

St Paul admonishes the Ephesians, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise. . .” Excellent advice. But I wonder: what would it mean for a Christian to live foolishly? It could mean living outside the church’s care, outside the historic embrace of the living tradition that guards and hands on the priceless arts of our faith’s living-wisdom – the stories, the teachings, the creeds that we use to become saints. Living foolishly as a Christian could mean buying into one of the many cultural train wrecks that will inevitably litter our social landscape: the disappearnce of personal responsibility; the multiplication of lonely souls perpetually jacked into IPods, laptops, and cell phones; the ease with which death comes to be a reasonable reaction to daily inconveniences. Living foolishly could be something as “old-fashioned” as living in sin, living in defiance of the Father’s will for our lives, denying divine providence; or maybe something like living a life of unhealthy risk, constant stress and trauma, living outside reason. Or it could mean living with nothing more than a superficial faith, living with just a barely minimum veneer of religiosity, while setting aside Christ's wisdom for the wisdom of the world.

We can live foolishly a hundred different ways, a thousand! But only one way of living offers us life-saving wisdom. Paul writes, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise[…]do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” Living in ignorance of the Lord’s will for your life is what it means to live foolishly, to live without wisdom, without His guidance and care. A fool believes he wisely maps his life by considering all contingencies, covering all possibilities, insuring against all inevitabilities, but by leaving the Father’s will off the map the fool guarantees that the biggest possible picture, the end-game of his life is missed entirely. Without God, without His grace we are nothing. Literally, “no thing;” we are not.

And here is where the arts of our faith’s living wisdom, handed on to us, are the most help. As Catholics, we simply cannot plead ignorance of the spiritual life. We cannot say with any integrity, with any expectation of being seriously believed: “I didn’t know about the life of wisdom! I didn’t know I had access to the treasures of our tradition!” If you make it to weekly Mass, you already have access to the priceless pearl of the Father’s revelation in the proclamation and preaching of the Word. You already have ready access to a communal life of prayer that lifts up praise and thanksgiving to God and petitions the Father with the indomitable intercession of the community of saints. You already have access to the living bread, the flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given in sacrifice for us all and eaten at his command for our growth in holiness. You already have an open door to heaven, a cleared path to your final union with God, a greased shot straight up to the Throne! Everything we need to find ourselves in the presence of the Father after death is freely given to us right now. Nothing we need is held back. Freely given and freely received, the Father's love brings us back to Him. How do we receive His love?

When you attend Mass, properly disposed, you eat and drink of the Lord’s body and blood, taking into your body and bloody the substance of the One who suffered, died, and rose again for our everlasting healing. True food, true drink he remains in us and we in him and we come, at our end, to Life because of Him. The foolish call what we do today – this sacrifice, this familial meal of his body and blood – they call it a “mere symbol” or a “simple memorial” without any real world effect, without salvific consequences. Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life[…]the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” If Moses and his people ate real life-saving bread in the desert, why would we deny the reality of the life-saving bread that we eat here tonight? Symbols cannot save us. Signs cannot save us. Memorials cannot save us. Only the Body and Blood of Christ can save us, and save it does.

My life, your life is caused – granted, given, gifted – by the life of Christ in this sacrifice of the Mass – not a mere symbol, not simple remembrance, but his Real Presence and efficacious sacrifice – the folding together of history by the power of the Holy Spirit so that Back Then touches Right Now and the one death for many on the cross is Right Here for our thanksgiving and praise. We do not sacrifice Christ again – over and over each Mass; we re-present him, we make present again his once-for-all sacrifice on the cross, our only means of salvation.

The will of the Father for us, for our life in wisdom, is that we live together praising his Name, eating at His table, forgiving one another, outdoing one another in charitable acts, teaching and preaching the truth of the faith in love, witnessing to His mercy by seeking justice, and, quoting Paul, by “singing and playing to the Lord in our hearts, giving thanks always and for everything” in the name of Jesus our Risen Lord. The Father's will for us is life, abundant life freely given and freely received. Our Lord says, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” And b/c we can have life in Christ, we can have eternal life in the Father. That's His will. That's His wisdom. 
Only a fool turns from that kind of gift.

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