11 September 2015

The blind cannot lead the blind

23rd Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

It's a week after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. I'm in my second year of theology, and I want revenge. My turn to preach vespers rolls around the weekend after the Towers fell. The lectionary requires me to preach on Luke's account of the Widower's Mite. I can't do it. Instead, I go to Zephaniah and read: “I will sweep away man and beast. . .I will make the wicked stumble; I will eliminate the people from the face of the land. . .[the nations will be] A field of weeds, a salt pit, a waste forever. . .[pouring] out upon them my wrath, all my blazing anger; For in the fire of my passion all the earth will be consumed. . .I have cut down nations. . .I have made their streets deserted. . .Their cities are devastated, with no one dwelling in them. . .” Smiling, I imagine the A-10 Warthog and the FA 18 Hornet strafing villages; Tomahawk and Stinger missiles laying waste to terrorist hideouts; and tanks and Humvees rolling over barbarian strongholds. To me, the wrath of God smelled like thermite and American gunpowder. But as I took comfort in my revenge fantasies. . .I remembered: I am a follower of Christ, a vowed religious. Is vengeance mine to dispense? Do I judge righteousness? What does the teacher say? What does he teach?

Jesus asks us, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?. . .Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” No, Lord, the blind cannot guide the blind, and I notice my brother's blindness b/c it is easier to make myself the judge of righteousness than it is to submit myself to judgment. I judged my nation's enemies in 2001 and appointed myself their executioner. They attacked us. They murdered us. They destroyed families. They caused billions of dollars in damage and started two obscenely expensive wars. More lives lost. More families destroyed. More money wasted. And we here at home began to dismantle our free republic in the name of safety and security. Vengeance blinds. The self-righteous need to return hurt for hurt leaves everyone hurting and no one to do the healing. As an American, I needed a clear and aggressive response to foreign terrorism. I needed vengeance. But as a follower of Christ and a vowed religious, I needed ____________. What did I need? I cannot be greater than Christ my Teacher. But can I be like him? Can I say and do all that he teaches me to say and do? Can I forgive? Can I pray for the terrorists? Can I see my own splinters and remove them before looking for splinters in my enemies' eyes? The blind cannot guide the blind. And the sinful cannot lead the sinful to righteousness. I know this. 
Like Paul, I can confess: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man. . .” But I cannot say that “I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” I believed in 2001. I knew Christ in 2001. I was not ignorant in 2001. And I still wanted vengeance. I was mercifully treated despite my sin, despite my disordered passions. And I learned that academic degrees, religious vows, priestly ordination – none of these insulate us from the splinters we gather in the world. None of these compel us to dig these splinters out. What – rather, who – will prompt us to examine our judgments carefully; to consciously, actively search for the splinters that blind us? Christ. And only Christ. “The grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 
We cannot lead others to places we've never been. We cannot guide others to righteousness if we ourselves dwell in anger, greed, envy, lust, or pride. We cannot lead from power, from compulsion, from manipulation or fear. If we will lead others to Christ, we must be like Christ, like our Teacher. We must lead with abundant mercy, faith, and love. When the Towers fell on September 11, 2001, a splinter found its way into my eye. I drove it deeper and nurtured a need for revenge. But Christ – in his mercy – removed that splinter. Now, I want to be like my Teacher. Lord, save the sight of your servant.


Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

08 September 2015

God loving us through Mary

From 2006. . .

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

There is no “Once upon a time…” in the Catholic faith, no “Long ago and far away…” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the New Covenant, the Father of all creation operates in history for our salvation—dates, times, places, people, events—real history, real stories, faithful narratives of His people struggling to love Him and to be loved by Him. The Eastern Orthodox bishop and theologian, John Zizioulas, writes: “History is the sacrament of Israel’s religion.” Meaning that history, the record of God’s creative and re-creative work in His world, reveals God to us, makes Him better known to us. Through His Word from the Law and the Prophets, through His Word to Mary, our Mother, and through the revelation of the New Covenant in the Word Made Flesh, our Father brings us to Him, reels us in, and gives us new life. The celebration of Mary’s nativity is a celebration of our redemption in history—not an escape from this world in timeless myth but the blessing of this world in Christ’s birth as Lord and Savior.

OK. Why the theology lecture, Father? Here’s why: how easy is it for us to fall into the foggy mush of neo-pagan escapism, the near-Gnostic desire to understand our salvation as some sort of mystical escape from the dirty world, from the heavy stuff of living in bodies that betray our spiritual efforts, and other bodies—you people out there!—who won’t stop sinning, who won’t Do Right and make my work at getting holier easier for me! How quickly and easily we can come to think of our spiritual lives as the difficult work of ridding ourselves of what makes it possible for us to be perfected in God’s love: one another.

If we will be saved together, then we must live together in holiness and that means living in this world, in this history of God’s creation, among His works of beauty and goodness AND among the uglinesses and evils we build from what He has given us. Salvation is not about getting out of here as fast as possible. Salvation is about getting back into the family of God and witnessing, preaching, and teaching His healing Word; living every day, every hour, every minute in thanksgiving, in humble gratitude to Him for your very being, saying “thank you” for the fact of your existence, and the existence of everyone else, all of whom reveal Him to you.

Celebrating our Blessed Mother’s birth exalts her sacrificial fiat, her “let it be done to me” as a moment in history, a real event that calls out her predestined purpose, her prophetic place as the one who gives flesh to the Son. This took place. This took a place. An event with a location and a time. It took place to fulfill what the Lord had said in His Word through the prophet. And b/c it was done to her according to His Word and her Yes, the child is named Emmanuel, God-With-Us. And He is with us—in His family gathered here, in His priests, in His sacrifice of the altar, in His history, and in His Church.

If and when you are tempted by the devil of spiritual escapism—a spirit that tempts us with the false notion that we must get away from the dirt and the ugliness and sordidness of created things, especially other people, in order to be saved—if and when you are tempted by this devil, give thanks for Mary’s birth. Give thanks for her fiat. Give thanks to her for bearing Jesus and bringing the Word to us. And remember that God is with us—not “once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away,” but right now, right here loving us through His family. Loving us back to Him until he comes again.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->