25 December 2016

Notes on the Homily

NB. I was asked recently by the Office of Worship to write three bulletin inserts on preaching and the homily. I found this post from December 2005, and thought I share it again!

Q: What is a homily? 

 A: Let’s start with what it ISN'T. . .

* several stories of dubious humor strung together with a “moral” tacked on

* a pep talk, an appeal for money, an update on parish construction, or a book review

* a report on Father’s last visit to his shrink/therapist/spiritual director

* a stump speech, a rousing call to political arms, a psychology/sociology lecture

* an academic essay on Things Theological-Philosophical-Scriptural

* a love-letter to big money donors

* 8-15 unscripted minutes of the Mass where Father gets to show the crowd what a great guy he is by blowing off the homily! 
* and, finally, a 2016 addition for NOLA: homily time isn't a pep rally for the New Orleans Saints or the LSU Tigers!
. . .so, what IS a homily?

* a liturgical device of Speaking the Word, giving the Word of God voice for today

* authentic, authoritative instruction in the living faith of the Church

* an exhortation to communal and personal holiness, encouragement in the face of despair

* an “unpacking” of the readings in a way that addresses real problems of faith

* a liturgical device for raising questions, suggesting answers, stirring up trouble, getting into fights

Q: How is a homily prepared/written?

A: Every preacher is different, of course. I can give you a brief outline of how I do it:

I read the lectionary readings about a week ahead of time to see what strikes me. I usually mumble to myself about how dull the reading is or how I’ll never squeeze anything out of THAT text or how we just had that reading two weeks ago, etc. Then I will read it again a few days later—having forgotten it by then—and something will strike me as odd/weird/brilliant/curious. I will grab a commentary to check on any cultural references or historical oddities, and then I will begin to pose a question or a problem to tackle. I will locate the readings in a Bible (I own five different English translations!) and look at “where” the readings are in the larger narrative. This almost always gives me something to work with in the homily. All this time, I am praying for inspiration, for insight. I don’t write a word of my homily until the morning of the day it is to be preached. I am a morning person, so I’m up at 4:30am, coffee in hand, ready to roll! Weekday homilies are 550-650 words, Sunday homilies are twice that. [I've recently reduced the word counts by half]

What’s basic, I think, to any good homily is an application of the readings to real, contemporary problems. I don’t mean to suggest that the homily needs to be a “fix-it” talk where the priest gives the assembly quick and easy DIY solutions to complex problems; however, the homily can be a great way for the preacher to raise issues, questions, problems that are common to his parish/ministry and show how the readings and the tradition might help to address them. This means, of course, that a good preacher is listening, listening, listening to what’s troubling God’s faithful.

I always try to do the following in every homily. . .

* preach the gospel in front of me, not the gospel I think the congregation wants to hear, or the gospel that will get me the fewest complaints, or the gospel that will get me the most compliments!

* include a humorous story if there’s one that’s truly relevant (I’m a Southerner born and bred, so I exaggerate like I breath—loudly and on a regular basis.)

* use an image, a phrase, or a line from ALL four readings; the Psalms, sadly, often get shortchanged [This practice turned into an occasion of pride for me, so I don't do this much anymore]

* preaching is an oral form, so I write for oral presentation: lots repetition, alliteration, “unpacking,” and frequent use of language from the readings, the liturgy of the day, and the tradition

* say something truly challenging and maybe even unnerving! (I’m a Dominican, so I am not particularly inclined to spoon feed folks religious pabulum or feel-good psychobabble just to keep things sweet.) [If anything, I'm even more unwilling to spoon-feed eleven years later]

* I am downright tenacious about preaching the following: a) the universal call to holiness; b). our salvation understood as our divinization; c) our salvation as an undeserved, unmerited, totally FREE gimme from God; d) our responsibilities to the Body of Christ as members of the Body of the Christ; e) the need for true humility before the authority of the Church to teach the authentic faith; f) the absolutely indispensable necessity of a powerful private and common prayer life (cf. CCC Part IV), and g) our responsibilities in revealing Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to one another!

Q: What needs work?

A: I read my homilies from prepared texts. This will never change. It can’t. I am tied to language as a writer, a poet, an English teacher, etc. I just can’t let go of the text and preach “off the cuff.” I will ramble, jabber on for an hour, wander around until someone chunks a hymnal at me. I need to practice more so I can be more engaging with the assembly and not so glued to the paper [I'm much better at this!]. I’ve been told that I talk too fast—and I’m a Southerner [Gotten better here too, I think]! And that my homilies are too complex for just listening, thus the blog site for those who want to read them [Improved some here, still need more improvement]. I’m always wrong about my homilies too—just about every time I think I’ve preached a real dud, I get lots of great feedback. And when I think I’ve preached a real winner—nothing, nada, crickets chirping. [I know when I've preached a dud. Still can't tell when I've done a decent job].
Oh well.

Comments? Comments from other preachers particularly welcomed!!

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18 December 2016

Real Faith, Real World, Real Christ!

4th Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Thinking abstractly is one of the ways we mark a child's cognitive maturity. Adults think in terms of general principles and concepts all the time. We use symbols, signs, metaphors, parables; concepts related to numbers, motion, time, space, etc. We learn to think abstractly partly b/c we need to think about the things of the world as they all relate to us and one to another. But there's a problem with abstract thinking when it comes to our lives in the Spirit. Ideas, concepts, principles are easily manipulated, undermined, and changed precisely b/c they often have no tangible referents in the physical world. The names of concrete things – books, keys, glasses – these are all meaningful b/c we can point to the thing and verify the name. However, terms like love, freedom, sin, health, goodness – all of these get matched and re-matched with their abstracted concepts, and it is nearly impossible to decide what they really mean b/c we can't check their meaning against concrete reality. This basic glitch in our humanity can cause problems with our relationship with God. Therefore, he sends His Son to us in the flesh, so that there can be no mistaking His meaning: Christ is the Father's mercy given flesh, blood, and bone
We know that ours is not an abstracted faith. We do not offer our praise and thanksgiving to an idea or a concept. We don't pray to Peace or Justice or Truth or Goodness. Christ did not die on the cross as a symbol or a sign or a metaphor. I mean, who gets dressed on a Sunday, goes to church, and worships Being Itself? Who here has prayed to Existence or the Universe for a favor? As strange as it may sound, over the centuries, including the last few decades, many Catholic theologians, priests and bishops among them, have advocated exactly that. That we stop thinking of God in human terms. That we cease addressing God as “Father” and call Him “parent.” That we no longer say “Son of Man” but “Child of Humanity.” That we refer to the kingdom as “the community.” Besides being horribly clumsy and just plain silly, these attempts at changing the language are also attempts to redefine the truth of the faith. And it's nothing new. Early heresies in the church denied the divinity of Christ. Some denied his humanity. Still others taught that he was just an illusion, not real at all. What they all had in common was their denial of the apostolic faith, specifically, the Church's teaching on the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – Christ Jesus, who's birth – who's birth – we celebrate next Sunday!

St. Matthew couldn't make the point any clearer, so he quotes the prophet, Isaiah, this evening, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “'God is with us.'” Emmanuel. God is with us. Here with us. Right here among us. As a man. As a divine person with both a divine nature and a human nature. Like us in every way except sin. Concepts do not weep. Ideas do not eat flame-broiled fish. Abstract nouns do not die covered in blood on a cross. Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, was flesh and blood and bone so that we might have a saving friendship with a man, a real person. So that our eternal lives will not be left in the ever-shifting definitions of culture or popular opinion or corrupted power. We eat real bread and drink real wine. We light real candles with real fire. We come together shoulder to shoulder and hear real music and sing real hymns. Our worship is real, concrete, and makes use of the ordinary things of the ordinary world. And by the invocation of the Holy Spirit all of these, all of us are taken up and made into a holy sacrifice for the salvation of the world. This is the Father's mercy made manifest. 
God-is-with-us. Emmanuel. Christ Jesus. Both God and man. Born in the flesh and risen in the flesh and set to return again in the flesh. We wait for him during Advent b/c flesh and bone needs time to come together. To gestate. To grow and take full form. If Christ were merely a notion, an idea, then there would be no need for us to wait. Ideas are easy to conjure up. We could all stay at home, synchronize our clocks for 6.00pm, and just think about Jesus for an hour or so. We could think about Peace and Joy and Happiness. No need to get out in this messy weather. But our Father wants real communion for us in real time. This is why we celebrate His son's birth into the world. To reset our faith in Him. To remember our hope from Him. And to reinforce our love for Him. Joseph welcomes the pregnant Mary into his home b/c he knows that she carries the living Word of the Father. We too carry the living Word into the world. We're not always welcomed. But we have said Yes to the Spirit. And there is nothing else for us to do but to show the world God's mercy and love. In thought, word, and deed. . .to be the body and blood of Christ in sacrifice for the whole world.

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11 December 2016

Is Jesus the Savior you're looking for?

3rd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

What are we waiting for? Better yet: who are we waiting for? Of course, we're waiting for Christ. Born on Christmas and coming again at the end of the age. We wait for both his birth and his return. But waiting for his birth is the easier of the two b/c we know the day and time of his arrival as an infant from Mary. When will he come again? At the end of the age? We don't know. James says to us, “Be patient, brothers and sisters. . .see how the farmer waits. . .You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm. . .Do not complain. . .Take as an example of hardship and patience. . .the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” Patience and hardship. The example of the prophets. That's what we're to do while we wait. Be patient. Endure hardship. Not exactly a cheery Advent message. But probably one we can all stand to hear. John the Baptist, perhaps a bit impatient himself, sends his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” And in his usual way, Jesus gives an unexpected answer: “Go and tell John what you hear and see. . .” Healing, raising the dead, freeing the possessed, preaching to the poor. Is Jesus the Messiah you're looking for? Or are you looking for, waiting for another?

Please don't take offense at the question! I know it's weird to ask a church filled with Catholics if they are looking for a Messiah other than Jesus! But hear me out. The history of the Church is littered with false Messiahs – self-appointed prophets, trendy gurus, and unsavory saviors. And even when no one in the Church is publicly chasing after a personality or a philosophy opposed to Christ, many are still privately putting something or someone on the altar of their heart. Someone or something other than Christ. Who or what are these idols? You've heard them listed all before, no doubt – money, stuff, power, sex, popularity, knowledge, all these things that can be good. . .but they can never be God. None of these can ever be the Messiah. Not your spouse, your children, your job, your friends; not your pastor, your Pope, or your President. None of these is the Christ. And the waiting of Advent, the patience and the endurance of hardship, graces us with all that we need to see and hear the Good News that Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem to the virgin, Mary, is our Savior and King. We are looking for and waiting for no other. Like John the Baptist, we have found and been found by the Only Begotten Son.

Having found him and been found by him, we turn again to our waiting for him to come again at the end of the age. Waiting around patiently and enduring the hardship of living in this world may not seem worth the wait. But if we truly believe that he will sit in judgment of our lives, separating the goats from the sheep, and taking to himself all who remain in his love, then the choice to endure is easy. Jesus asks those who went to listen to John: “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing?” He wants to know why they ran after the Baptist. What were they seeking? “Then why did you go out?” he asks, “To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” They went into the desert to seek out the one who would herald the Christ. Why? Because they know that the Christ will call the unrighteous to repentance and the unjust to justice. He will suffer and die for their sins and see them reconciled with the Father. And on the last day, he will sit as Judge to weigh their convictions and dole out abundant mercy to all who have confessed and turned to him. Whatever impatience makes us angry or anxious or depressed, and whatever hardship we must endure while waiting. . .we wait, and while we wait, we grow in holiness for that last day, that last day before the judgment seat.

The third Sunday of Advent is always called Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday! All this waiting can be a bit wearing, so the Church gives us one Sunday in the season to lift up our praise and thanksgiving to God for His sending us His Son. This week – make your daily prayer one of rejoicing, giving God thanks for the joy He has brought into your life. Name those blessings. Count the gifts. Raise each one up to Him and pledge its use to His greater glory. Moms and dads, teach your children to give God thanks for you, for their siblings, for their family and friends. Teach them true humility before their Maker, and they will see the spiritual dangers of pride and entitlement. And while we all wait, never forget: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save [us].”

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04 December 2016

A Fearful Prediction

2nd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Humans respond to fear. This is both a good and a bad thing. If fear prevents us from doing something incredibly dangerous – that's good. However, if fear drives us to do something incredibly stupid – that's bad. Politicians, media talking-heads, religious leaders – they all understand that fear can motivate human action or forestall it. So, they make liberal use of predictions to paint for us a picture where our only response can be one of fear. Fortunately, reality intervenes and their predictions are shown to be little more than scare tactics in a strategy to dominate us. Economists predicted the financial collapse of the UK if that nation left the E.U. Didn't happen. Climate scientists predicted a New Ice Age in the 70's if we didn't cut pollution. Didn't happen. Religious leaders of all stripes regularly predict the end-of-the-world on some specific date if we don't donate. Hasn't happened yet! Now, we read that John the Baptist is predicting the coming of the Messiah and the destruction of sinners if they do not repent. “Even now,” he preaches, “the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Is he trying to make us fearful? Absolutely! But his fearful prediction is about freedom from sin and not worldly domination.

So, if politicians, scientists, religious leaders use predictions of doom and gloom to scare us into obedience, why should we believe John the Baptist when he predicts the coming of the Messiah and eternal fire for unrepentant sinners? One simple reason, really: he is right; that is, his prediction – or better named – his prophecy is fulfilled with the coming of the Christ Child. The Messiah has come, and he will come again. This is a fundamental truth of our faith. Not a truth meant to dominate us in the world, or to frighten us into religious submission. But a truth that sets us free from our slavery to sin and death. The coming of the Messiah is prophesied in the O.T. Some 800 years before the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Isaiah writes, “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” We know that the Gentiles – the Magi – followed the signal – the North Star – to seek out the Infant Christ and found him glorious in his shepherd's hut. Recognizing him as their King, they prostrate themselves and give him the gifts due a priest, a prophet, and a king. John the Baptist's prophecy – his prediction – that the Messiah will come is fulfilled. 
If we believe that his prediction concerning the Messiah comes true – and we do – then why would we doubt the second part of his fearful prediction? The part where he says, “[The Messiah] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” We shouldn't doubt this b/c this is precisely why the Messiah comes in the first place. Not to condemn. But to gather to himself those who have repented of their sins and followed after him in love. The “unquenchable fire” isn't so much a punishment as it is a consequence, the inevitable result of declining to live fully in the light of Divine Love. As I have preached to you many times over the years: we choose hell for ourselves. By living apart from God's love and His will, we choose to live outside His mercy forever in death. He will not force Himself on us. We must freely choose and then live out our freedom with good works. John the Baptist warns the Pharisees and us that our repentance must produce good fruit to be secure. He preaches, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Where is my good fruit? Where is yours?

I am thankful everyday that I am not left alone to produce the good fruits of repentance. I shudder to think what I would choose on my own. I have my Dominican brothers; the seminary faculty, staff, and seminarians; friends and family. I have a great cloud of witnesses bearing me up, and dozens of faithful Catholics praying for me. And it is this unity of purpose – the one heart and one mind of the Church – that holds everyone of us up. Paul writes to the Romans, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” With endurance and encouragement we think in harmony! With one voice we give glory to God! That's how we begin to produce the good fruits of repentance – by staying close to the heart and the mind of the Church, giving thanks and praise to God, and doing everything that we do, and saying everything that we say, and thinking everything that we think for no other reason than to give God the glory. Do this. . .and you will bear the most excellent fruit. 
We await the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. And we await his coming again at the end of the age. While we wait, we prepare. We prepare by remaining in good spiritual shape. By exercising our sacraments. By fasting and prayer. And by remembering always: our God has given us every encouragement to endure in peace until His Christ should again appear. Remain one heart, one mind, in the service of one Lord.

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26 November 2016

THE Final Exam

1st Sunday of Advent (2016)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic/OLR, NOLA

The prophet, Isaiah demands that we “walk in the light of the Lord!” St. Paul urges us to “throw off the works of darkness!” And our Lord warns us to “stay awake!” Walk in the light. Throw off darkness. Stay awake. Sounds like someone is studying for final exams! Or maybe pulling an all-nighter on year-end tax preparation. But, we know, that today is the first Sunday of Advent – our season of waiting – so walking in the light, throwing off darkness, and staying awake are all imperatives for preparing ourselves to welcome the birth of the Christ Child a month from now. Why do we need to prepare? If you are at all like me while waiting, your attention lags. You get anxious. Twitchy and frustrated. You begin to wonder if the cashier is napping. Or if the guy at the head of the line is trying to order lunch in Swahili. While waiting, I begin to experience myself as the center of the universe. I am the only one with important things to do and important people to see. I am busy, rushed, running late. IOW, my pride comes raging to the surface, and the possibility that I am being taught some humility only makes me angrier. With pride comes serious temptation to sin. The spirit of Advent is right behind me, whispering, “Walk in the light. Throw off darkness. Stay awake.”

If I manage to resist punching the spirit of Advent in the face, I take a deep breath and imagine myself walking in the light. There are no shadows. Not even my own. No dark places. Nothing not shining with the light Christ offers. “Walking in the light” can sound a little too much like a Star Wars proverb. But it's the biblical way of saying “live with the Lord,” “follow His commands,” “walk the path of righteousness.” We can prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child by getting up in the morning and going to bed at night with a single prayer on our lips: “Lord, you are my light; make me your light to the world.” If we see and hear ourselves as conduits for Christ's light, as a means of shining out Christ's light to the world, then we can more easily resist pride and the temptations pride entertains. Waiting becomes more than just a trial in patience. Waiting becomes our way of bearing witness. Just being still in Christ and letting him convert us into his peaceful presence – no words, gestures, or signs from us. Just Christ radiating out. Scripture calls this “countenance.” One's bearing – encouraging, patient, peaceful. If we are in Christ, then there can be no darkness in us. Our countenance is Christ.

If Christ is our countenance – our manner of appearing and being in the world – then we have already thrown aside the works of darkness. The phrase “works of darkness” always makes me think of the many sci-fi/fantasy novels I've read over the years. I immediately see Dark Lords and Evil Knights ravaging the land for power. Paul is thinking a little smaller here. The works of darkness he urges us to throw off are the works of our disordered passions – rivalry, promiscuity, drunkenness, and jealousy. Not exactly the rioting armies of Orcs from Mordor but nonetheless all fatal to our relationship with Christ. Every work of darkness, every act willed from a disordered passion twists the human person toward folly, turning him or her into a fool. We become used to sin; we come to see and hear disobedience to the Father's will as normal; and, finally, we run out of time, and God honors our faithlessness by faithfully allowing us to live apart from Him forever. While we wait on the birth of the Christ Child, while we walk humbly in his light, the works of darkness appear as stains, as shadows on our Way. We can overthrow these dark works by turning again and again to Christ. In the sacrament of confession, in personal and public prayer, and in works of charity. We can stay with Christ by staying awake in his spirit.

When Jesus warns us to “stay awake,” he means to warn us against spiritual complacency, against the bad human habit of “feeling secure” while living outside the will of his Father. We may feel secure in our homes, our jobs, our personal relationships, but we are not truly secure until we are “awake in Christ,” until every aspect of our lives is fully alive to the reality and power of Christ to bring us to the Father. It's one thing to know about Christ; it's another to know him. It's one thing to love the idea of Christ; it's another to love him. Being “awake in Christ” means being fully, actively conscious that you and all that you have belongs to Christ – as your freely offered gift to him. When we take his yoke and follow his Way, we become his. Wholly owned, if not always wholly operated. By walking in the light and throwing off the works of darkness, we can be both wholly owned and wholly operated by Christ and therefore always awake to his coming, always awake and waiting on his coming again. Advent is our time to wait on his birth at Christmas and to anticipate his coming again at the end of the age. He comes once to free us and again to judge us. Sitting on the judgment seat, he may ask you: “Did you walk in the light? Did you throw off the works of darkness? Did you stay awake?” These are your questions for the season of Advent. Prepare your answers well. . .this will be The Final Exam.

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19 November 2016

Ruling from the Cross

NB: from 2013 for the Vigil Mass. . .I'll have a new homily ready for the Our Lady of the Rosary Mass tomorrow.

Christus Rex
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic/Tulane Catholic, NOLA

Take a moment to consider the crucifix—a cross made of wood with a dead body nailed to it. What's so special about Jesus' crucifixion? In the world ruled by the Roman Empire, slaves, pirates, and rebels against the empire were routinely crucified. It was considered a dishonorable way to die. In 71 B.C., the Roman general, Marcus Licinius Crassus, finally defeated the gladiator army of Spartacus the Thracian, crucifying 6,000 rebellious slaves along the Appian Way. Just 17 years before this, the King of Judea, Alexander Jannaeus, crucified 88 Pharisees who opposed his rule, and five hundred years before this, King Darius I of Babylon crucified 3,000 of his political opponents. So, Babylonians, Jews, Romans all nailed or tied men and women to wooden crosses as a form of torture and execution. Why then make such a big deal about Jesus' execution? What's so special about a cross with the body of Christ hanging on it? Ask yourself on this Solemnity of Christ the King: how does Christ rule as a king while hanging dead on a cross? How does he rule in your life, your heart and mind?

How does Christ rule as a king while hanging dead on a cross? We can start an answer by turning to Paul and his letter to the Colossians. Paul tells us that God delivers us from the power of darkness – from ignorance, sin, and death – and then transfers us from this world's domination over to His kingdom – to the rule, the governance – of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in whom and through whom we have redemption. And what is this redemption? The forgiveness of our sins. So, by forgiving our sins – apart from our good works, apart from our good intentions – God grants us absolute amnesty, free reign to abide in His kingdom as citizens and not only as citizens but as heirs as well! If we accept, if we receive his freely offered amnesty, we are “transferred” to another jurisdiction, to another governing power: the rule of Christ the King. And under his rule, we are brothers and sisters in the Holy Family of God. We live under a new dispensation, a new and eternal law of charity in hope with an abiding faith. Paul says, “. . .the Father who has made [us] fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.” And that is what we are here to do: share in the inheritance granted us by the death of Christ on the cross and by his resurrection from the tomb.

But this is only a partial answer to our first question. Christ rules a kingdom from his cross and an empty tomb, a kingdom to which we are heirs. But how does he rule? Who is he that he can do such a bizarre thing? We turn to Paul again. He writes, “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God. . .in [Christ] were created all things in heaven and on earth. . .all things were created through [Christ] and for [Christ]. He is before all things, and in [Christ] all things hold together. . .” Through Christ, for Christ, and in Christ “all things hold together.” All things. Including me and you. If “all things” hold together in Christ, then it follows that Christ serves as the organizing principle, the center, the underlying structure for all of creation. He was “at the beginning” with the Father; he is with us now, and he will be with us always. All of this tells us that Christ is God, so when we look at the crucifix, we see God hanging there. Dead. For us. And b/c Christ was both human and divine, we see humanity hanging there as well. Human nature. What you and I are are most fundamentally. But you and I aren't dead. We're alive. How does Christ rule from the cross? He rules through the redeemed human nature that you and I share. He rules – at least for now – through our free reception of his sacrificial love. We are his body and blood, his hands and feet, moving through creation, doing the work he gives us to do.

That's who are we: the body and blood of Christ, his hands and feet, moving through creation, doing the work he gives us to do. That is, that's who we are if and when we freely receive his sacrificial love and make that love manifest in our work. Look at the criminal on a cross next to Jesus. The sign above Jesus' bloody head reads, “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke tells us, “Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, 'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.'” In other words, prove your worth, King of the Jews! Prove that you are who you say you are! He almost dares Jesus to rescue them from their fate. The other criminal, traditionally named Dismas, somehow understanding who hangs next to him, rebukes the first, saying, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?. . .we have been condemned justly. . .but this man has done nothing criminal.” Seeing the scandal of Jesus' unjust execution, Dismas freely receives Christ's sacrificial love: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In these two condemned men, we see all of humanity: those who dare Christ to save them from death and those who receive his salvation into eternal life. To the latter, Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Earlier, I asked you: how does Christ rule in your life, your heart and mind? One way to answer this is to think of yourself as Dismas, hanging next to Christ on your own cross. You have accepted death as punishment for your sins, and yet, seeing Christ dying unjustly, innocent of any sin, you call out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He turns to you and says, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” From that moment, you are “transferred” to another kingdom to live under another law, the law of charity in hope with an abiding faith.

You are pardoned, freed from the sentence of death, and let loose to thrive as an heir to the heavenly kingdom. Christ rules in your heart and mind as the sovereign of your every thought, word, and deed; as the sole ruler of everything you are and everything you do. In you, we see the hands and feet, the body and blood, the face of Christ. Through you, we witness the reign of Christ the King on earth. And with you, we live to bring to the fallen world the Good News of God's freely offered mercy to sinners through His Christ. How does Christ rule in our lives, our hearts and minds? If we receive him, he rules by teaching us to be servants, serving in sacrifice.

By a show of hands, how many of you have a crucifix? At home? On you? A rosary, a necklace? Good! When you look at that crucifix, you see Jesus hanging dead on a cross. From now on, see a king on his throne, ruling your world, ruling you. See the prince of peace, dying to bring his Father's peace to your world, to you. See your Savior throwing open his arms to show you the vistas of Paradise, to guide you through to your inheritance. See the Judge of the Last Judgment showing you his Father's justice and then granting you His mercy. Imagine yourself on a cross next to him. And imagine all the steps you followed to get there. Look down, to the foot of your cross, and take every step back to the beginning, back to the very first time you said to Christ, “Remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom.” From that moment on, Christ has ruled you and through you. He has served you and through you he still serves. “Amen, I say to you, today you [are] with me in Paradise.”

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15 November 2016

Don't do the angels' work for them

St Albert the Great
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

My family used to spend our Sundays hanging out at an old water-filled gravel quarry somewhere down near Chalmette. We would boat in, find a nice sandy beach, and settle in for the day grilling hamburgers, swimming, and fishing. Our last outing to what we called the Duck Roost ended rather dramatically. My 8 yo brother and my 11 yo old self were swimming at dusk. My dad – in a boat nearby – speared his spotlight across the pond. He called our names and yelled, “We've got company!” I turned around and saw three sets of red, flashing gator eyes creeping through the water towards me and my brother. Some forty years later, we refer to this as “The Day the Powell Boys Learned to Run on Water”! I think that this is one of reasons I became a Fisher of Men. . .rather than a fisher of fish. Fishing for fish in LA's bayous can be dangerous. But fishing for the souls of men and women in the world can be just as dangerous for the fisherman, if not more so. We throw the net of the Gospel into the world and pull in every sort of soul. At the end of the day, fishers of fish keep the good and toss the bad. But at the end of the age, it is the angels – not the fishermen – who parse the catch.

To the fishers of men listening to his parable, Jesus asks, “Do you understand all these things?” They reply, “Yes.” And with fear and trembling at getting it wrong, we too must reply, “Yes.” Why fear and trembling? Sirach says, “Whoever fears the Lord. . .will come to Wisdom. . .[Whoever fears the Lord] will lean upon [Wisdom] and not fall; he will trust in her and not be put to shame.” When the Church's fishers of men understand – truly grasp – the Good News, they take upon themselves a wisdom firmly rooted in humility – a habit of heart and mind that bows to the truth of Creation: we are all creatures wholly dependent on our Creator and His mercy. A wise fisherman of souls does not separate the good from the bad in his net. That's the work of angels at the end of the age. The work of the fisherman in this world is the heavy-lifting, time-consuming, always frustrating work of hauling in as many souls as the day will allow. What's so dangerous about this for the fisherman? The temptation to do the work of angels, forgetting humility and wisdom. The temptation to court foolishness and shame. None of us is an angel. So, do your work in this world with joy and gratitude, announcing the Good News, pulling in the net. . .and let the Lord and his angels do the wiser work of parsing the catch.

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13 November 2016

Do NOT be deceived!

33rd Sunday OT(C)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
It was a Friday afternoon after school. We were right outside the Ms Shear’s house – she had an indoor pool with that the glass roof. She would open her gates and let us run our bikes down her driveway into the dead-end cove. At the bottom of the driveway that Friday just as I was spinning around to ride back up, my best friend, Teddie asked me, “Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” I stared at him for a second, mildly embarrassed, murmured something unintelligible, and headed back up the hill. He followed and asked me at the top, “Have you ever heard of the Tribulation?” No. “The Second Coming of Jesus.” No. “The Rapture?” No. “The war at Armageddon?” No. He stared at me, open-mouthed. I felt like a circus-freak – one of those werewolf boys or eight-legged cows you read about in F. O'Connor short stories. And just as I was starting to think Teddie was going to slap a sign on me and start selling tickets, he said, “You need to come to Vacation Bible School at Fremeaux Ave. Baptist Church.” I distinctly remember his tone. He pronounced this possibility like a highly-effective cure for a particularly ugly disease, like suggesting radical plastic surgery to the eight-legged cow or laser-hair removal for the werewolf boy. Vacation Bible School will fix ten-year old-Jesus-stupid-Philip. 
Jesus knows how to get and hold the attention of a crowd. Pointing to the temple, the very heart of the Jewish people, he says, “All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone…” And the people wonder, “Teacher, when will this happen?” Notice how Jesus answers. Typically, Jesus doesn’t answer the question asked of him; rather, he answers the question we would ask if we were less clueless! Rather than tell the crowd who or what destroys the temple, or how the temple is destroyed, or even when it is pulled down, Jesus says, “See that you are not deceived, for many will come in my name, saying ‘I am he’ and ‘The time is come.’ Do not follow them!” This isn’t an answer. And neither is any of the rest of his response. War. Famine. Earthquakes. Awesome sights and mighty signs. Persecutions of the church. These have been going on since the beginning of the Church. Before the Church even. And not only that, but the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans some seventy years after the resurrection of Christ, making this passage from Luke’s gospel essentially an interesting but ultimately pointless historical curiosity for us in 2016, right? Wrong! Jesus’ response to the crowd is an answer for the ages. To us. He is speaking to us right now.
You see, our faith, done right, is a dangerous thing. It is a worm in the shiny apple of the world. A pest that buzzes ‘round the emperor’s head. Our faith is a still small voice that never stops whispering for the Lord’s justice. Never stops praying for the world’s sick, hungry, lonely, oppressed, sinful. Our faith, our firm trust in the Lord and our sure hope of resurrection, annoys; it burns to clean; it names those who would set themselves on the altar of the temple, and it pulls down the idols of the appetites. Through our faith we see clearly, hear cleanly the chaos and racket of a world infused with the spirit of the Now and the New. Easy salvation. Cheap grace. No-challenge Church. Invent as you go, believe as you wish, do as you please. Please yourself, please me! Here’s a new prophet, a new priest to tickle our ears, to scratch our curiosities. I am he. The time has come. I am he. The time is now. The time is new. I am he who comes in the name of the Lord. I am he whose time is now and I come in the name of a new Lord! 
Do not be deceived. Do not follow him. Or her. Or it – a spiritual program, a method, a style or a fashion, a theological trend, or a “new thing in prayer,” the latest thing to demand your allegiance, your time and energy, your soul. Do not be deceived by easy fixes, quick cures, elaborate models of living the faith, or fanciful devotions that take your eyes from Christ. Do not be deceived by the shiny, flickering world of cable-TV commerce or media-born politics or the brain-rotting candy of cultural relativism. Your faith is old. But your trust in the Lord is always brand new. For us, Christ is the wisdom of the ages. Always fresh, always innovative, always the original.

So, ten-year-old-Jesus-stupid-Philip went to Baptist Vacation Bible School. A week of verse-memorization, macaroni art, disciple-tag, fevered altar calls in church, intense pressure to “come to Jesus.” On the last day, I caved. I walked the aisle to the rail. In a Baptist version of confession, I muttered a few sins to the preacher. He asked me if I accepted Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior. I said, “Yes.” But I thought, “Sure. Anything to get outta here!” Later, Teddie asked me if I felt different. I said, “No. Not really.” Again, he stared at me like I had grown a third eye. He said sadly, “Well, you didn’t get saved then. You would feel it.” All I could do was shrug and say, “Maybe next time.” He showed me the Book of Revelation where the blood of those killed in the war against the Beast flowed as high as a horse’s bridle. He pointed to the whore of Babylon and told me that was really the Catholic Church. He read out to me the parts about the angels and the seven seals and the ten-headed dragon and the number 666. And he managed to scare Jesus into me. Or maybe he scared me into Jesus. 
Jesus warns us that we will be persecuted. Arrested and executed for our faith. This was made clear to me by Teddie when he showed me the chaos of the apocalypse. The energy, the fervor of his belief propelled me to seek out, to question, to look more deeply into the faith. I didn’t stop at the fundamentalist vision of the end times. I kept reading, praying, asking questions. And I found the Church…eventually. Before that though I let every alien philosophy out there, every puny little god with a creed and a priest tell me how to live. We are the Church, the Body of Christ. We are his Body and Blood. The blood of the martyrs’ faith. The faith of our ancestors in covenant with the Father. And a Father who has not abandoned us to novelty, to trendy religious nonsense, or worldly saviors. We are given the word of wisdom against whom no adversary can stand. We are given the trust of the Creator and His recreating Love. On these, we endure. With these, we persevere. And what promise we do have? This one: “You will be hated b/c of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” Nothing cheap or easy about that!

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07 November 2016

A truly seamless garment

We're told by many of our Catholic brethren who lean to the left that the Church errs in focusing too much on teaching against abortion. Of course abortion is bad, they say, but we can't be "one-issue voters." There are many important issues for Catholics to consider in the voting booth. 

True. There's racism, poverty, immigration, medical research using human embryos, human trafficking, and probably a dozen others.

But here's my question: why does the Church teach against sins like racism, violence, human trafficking, etc.? 

Racism violates the innate dignity of the human person.
Violence degrades the innate dignity of the human person.
Trafficking defiles the innate dignity of the human person.

The dignity of the human person is rooted in the imago Dei that each and every human person embodies. 

Is there a more horrific violation of the imago Dei that each person embodies than to be dissected with scissors in your mother's womb and sucked out through a tube?

The normalization of abortion as a simple medical procedure has made it possible for many of us to believe that killing is a viable (!) solution to most problems. 

Abortion is rotting our national institutions and destroying charity in the nation's heart. Abortion gives us permission to hate the Other -- the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the refugee, the poor, the crippled, the veteran. It gives us license to look at those we are charged with loving and think, "You're a nuance. A useless eater. It would be better if you were dead."

The fabric of the Church's seamless garment is the sanctity of human life. Every other issue hangs on this.

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06 November 2016

We possess the hope of the resurrection

32nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The Sadducees are up to some expert-level trolling this evening. They're trolling Jesus, hoping that he will take their bait and say something that triggers the crowd into ridiculing him. To understand how they are trolling Jesus we need to know that the Sadducees reject the doctrine of the resurrection. Once we know that, we can see why their question to Jesus about a woman married to seven brothers is nothing more than the first century equivalent of a snarky question in a website combox. What they want Jesus to say is that woman will be resurrected and married to all seven of her husbands. How ridiculous, they would reply! Obviously, this resurrection nonsense isn't to be believed. And on top of this rhetorical victory, the Sadducees would incite the crowd to turn on Jesus and see him as a poor, confused man who doesn't understand the scriptures. Unfortunately for them, Jesus reads their hearts and knows his scripture. His reply to their trolling builds on the Jewish scriptures and neatly puts to rest the Sadducees' objections to the resurrection. Jesus says, “Our God is the god of the living and dead.”* So, our question tonight is: Do you live as one alive in your God? 
How to answer that question. . .? Well, have you asked for and received God's mercy for sin? Have you stood witness to this mercy? Have you found yourself in His presence during prayer? Have you shown mercy to someone who's sinned against you? If so, then you are indeed alive in the Lord! How do I know this? Because we can do nothing good w/o Christ. We can't pray, celebrate the sacraments, give alms, fast, do charitable work, teach or preach; we can't even call him “Lord” unless he is with us. No one here this evening is here by chance. Each one of you – even the teens who may be here b/c mom and dad made them come! – each one of you is here b/c of the prompting of the Holy Spirit and your answer to that call. Those dead in the Lord, those who have chosen of their own free will to stay away from the Lord, for whatever reason, they are dead in the Lord. But even they have a god. B/c our God is the god of the living and the dead – those who are alive, dead, and spiritually dead. You are alive in the Lord and you dwell in the hope of the resurrection; therefore, how well do you live your life in the Lord? 
Way back in the 2nd century A.D., St. Irenaeus wrote, “Just as bread is no longer ordinary bread after God's blessing has been invoked upon it, the Eucharist is formed of two things, one earthly, the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection.” We are no longer corruptible. We possess the hope of the resurrection. The Eucharist is body and spirit – bread and Christ. So too are we body and spirit – flesh, bone and rational soul. And b/c we have the Eucharist – Christ's body and blood – we have the hope of the resurrection. NOT the possibility or the probability of the resurrection BUT the assurance that God has fulfilled all His promises; thus, we know – we know – that on the last day we will be resurrected. Whether you or I will be resurrected to glory or to condemnation is a matter of the particular judgment – that moment before the throne of the Great Judge when my life and yours will be examined and weighed against our promise to become perfect as Christ himself is perfect. Our hope, our expectation that God fulfills His promises sustains us always – even in these tumultuous days, especially in these tumultuous days. God abides. Christ abides. And we abide in them. In hope with faith through charity. Nothing can disturb our peace if we abide in God's love.

Speaking of disturbing our peace. . .you are probably as sick of this election cycle as I am. In my twelve years as a priest I have never addressed the specifics of an election from the pulpit. This election is different. You know that I can't/won't tell you who to vote for or against. That's not the Church's job as mother and teacher. I believe that this election is evidence of God's judgment on this country. I mean, when a nation turns its back on the Lord, He honors that decision and allows the consequences of that nation's sin to bear fruit. Our gravest national sin is abortion-on-demand. The Church has worked overtime in last 43 yrs to bear witness to the sacredness of life from conception to natural death. We have never wavered in bearing witness to the mercy of God in our ministries to the women and men who have procured abortions. Our shepherd, Archbishop Aymond, has declared that any business doing business with the new Planned Parenthood clinic will get no business from the archdiocese. He recently wrote to us, “The church has told us there are 'some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. These intrinsically evil acts must always be rejected and never supported.' The bishops make it clear, that 'the direct and intentional destruction of human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one among many issues. It must always be opposed.'” Yes, there are other serious issues for Catholics to consider. Poverty, racism, immigration, tax reform. But no other issue comes close to getting at the fundamental truth of our existence as human persons: We are living creatures loved by our Creator. And abortion is now thought of as nothing more a medical procedure akin to an appendectomy – the removal of a useless, diseased organ. That abortion is legal, that we live in a culture that pushes women – esp. poor women – toward abortion, that we have a political elite who demand that all of us pay for these abortions – that any of this is real. . .is beyond scary when seen in the light of God's judgment on our nation. You must follow the dictates of your well-formed conscience, understanding that your conscience does not create moral truth but discovers it. 
May God have mercy on us and our nation.

* No idea why I included "and the dead."  I didn't preach it.

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01 November 2016

Where we came from, where we are going

From 2012. . .

Solemnity of All Saints
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” So writes St. John. What do we know about what we will become? “We do know that when [what are to become] is revealed we shall be like him. . .” We will be like God. How is this possible? “. . .for we shall see him as he is.” To see God as He is, face-to-face, is to become like Him. John writes, “Everyone who has this hope [—to see Him face-to-face—] makes himself pure, as he is pure.” Those who lived with the hope of living forever in the presence of God's glory; those who have become all that they were made to be; those who have gone to see God face-to-face—these, we call “saints.” Both named and unnamed, both those still with us and those who rest in Christ—that “great multitude. . .from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” all the saints of God, testify before the throne in heaven and among us here and now that “salvation comes from our God. . .and from the Lamb;” therefore, we are blessed to exclaim along with them, “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever!” 

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” So writes St John. And we are children of God. Made so by God so that we might become saints through Christ. First, we were loved into existence out of nothingness; then, we were loved into freedom through mercy; then, we were free to love so that Love Himself might be perfected in us; then, and only then, were we shown, if we will it, how to take a place among the blessed: die to self. Take up your cross. Follow Christ. The poor in spirit; the meek; those who mourn; the clean of heart; the peacemakers; all those who hunger and thirst for righteous—all are among the blessed, the saints, because they desired nothing and no one more than they desired Christ. Christ is who they all most wanted to followed, most wanted to be. And they died for love as a sacrifice for many. Whether they died by the sword, the firing squad, by poverty and obedience; by wearying service; or surrender to solitude, they died first to self. Picked up their cross. And followed Christ. 

We celebrate this solemnity for all God's saints. Those named and unnamed, that “great multitude. . .from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” both those still with us and those who rest already in Christ. But we don't celebrate their lives and deaths b/c they need us our prayers and attention. We celebrate all the saints of the Church b/c we need to. And not simply b/c they stand above us as examples of holiness; and not just b/c they are pioneers for us along the narrow Way; and not only b/c we need their heavenly help before the throne of God, but b/c they are now who we can become if we will to become more than children of God. What we will become has not yet been revealed. But we know this: whatever we become, we will be like God for we will see Him as he is, face-to-face. And in seeing Him face-to-face, we will be made perfect as He is perfect. We celebrate all the saints of God's holy family so that we never forget where we came from (dirt and ash) and where we might end (among the blessed). All the angels and saints, along with the Blessed Mother and our own St. Dominic, proclaim before the throne of God: “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever!” If you will it. . .die to self. . .take up your cross. . .and follow Christ, you will stand among them.


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30 October 2016

Climb the Tree of the Church to see Christ

31st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Zacchaeus is traitor. And he's short. He can't help being short, but his traitorous nature is the direct result of sin. As a tax collector for the Roman occupiers and their puppet king, he is charged with squeezing the conquered population of Judea for cash. He's not paid to do this. To earn a living he keeps a percentage of what he collects. So, the more he collects, he more he earns. Ta-collectors were counted among the scum of society along with prostitutes and lepers. Now, we could psychoanalyze Zacchaeus to figure out why he became a tax-collector. Maybe. . .as a smaller boy he was bullied. Ostracized. Teased for being short, he grew up angry, swearing vengeance on his childhood oppressors. How ever and why ever it happened. . .he's a rich traitor. Fortunately for him, he hears about Jesus and something inside him is set alight with the desire to glimpse this wandering preacher. When Jesus comes through Jericho, Zacchaeus gets his chance. But, alas, he is not only a sinner but a short sinner and he cannot see Jesus over the crowd. Having spent much of his childhood running from bullies, he's quite skilled at climbing trees. So, he climbs a sycamore tree and from its strong branches, he sees Christ. And, more importantly, Christ sees him. Without that tree Zacchaeus might have never found his way to salvation.

No doubt – we have a story about a sinner finding Christ. It's one we've heard many times. But this is perhaps the only gospel story where a plant aids in the preaching of the Good News. Zacchaeus finds among the branches of that sycamore a refuge from the throng surrounding Jesus, a perch from which to watch Jesus pass by. Obviously, this is no ordinary tree, right? The sycamore is a species of fig. It has heart-shaped leaves; grows only in rich soil; and produces fruit year-round. The ancient Egyptians called it the “Tree of Life” and used its timber for royal coffins. It was a measure of wealth and prestige. Is it any wonder then that Zacchaeus sights his salvation from its branches? 
Let's take some literary license here. Thinking of our 21st century world, what serves as our sycamore tree for the short sinner? Where can those of us who are stunted by sin go to climb above the crowd to see Christ? What thrives in the rich soil of the Word? What produces good fruit year-round? What grows among its strong branches a foliage shaped like a God-longing heart? Where can we climb so that Christ sees a sinner above the crowd? Is there a better place for the sinner to be than the Church? Among strength, fruitfulness, holy desire, and the richness of a firm foundation, Zacchaeus, a short traitorous sinner, clearly sees the one he will host in his own home, the one to whom Jesus says, despite the grumbling of the crowd, “Today salvation has come to this house. . .” 
We can draw and some have drawn the wrong lesson from this story. Some will say, “See, Jesus welcomes all sinners, therefore we cannot call a sin a sin.” But notice that it is not sufficient for his salvation that Zacchaeus sees Jesus from the sycamore. Christ calls to him, knowing who he is, and invites Zacchaeus to host him. Zacchaeus hears the invitation and immediately knows that all his thieving, all his traitorous behavior is just fine with the Lord. His sin is no longer sinful, right? Wrong. Zacchaeus repents and vows to do penance by repaying his thefts four times over. Then Jesus announces the redemption of his house. This is the gospel pattern: Christ comes. Christ is seen. He invites the sinner to table. Overwhelmed by this mercy, the sinner repents and does penance. His salvation is made manifest. The task of the Church is to be the sycamore, the refuge for any and all who long to see the Lord from her strong, fruitful branches. From among these heart-shaped leaves, the worst of us can see Christ and hear his call to a new life in him. To hear Christ's invitation and to receive his mercy, confession and repentance must come first. His invitation and mercy do not magically make sin into something good. But. . .once received – thru confession and repentance – his mercy makes us into something else, something, Someone new!

Rich sinners, poor sinners, tall, short, fat sinners, skinny, black, white, male, female sinners, gay, straight, in-between sinners, sinners in all the infinite variety in God's creation – climb the branches of Christ's holy tree – the Church – and he will ask to come stay with you. Accept his invitation and his mercy thru the confession of your sins and repentance. . .and you too will be set free.

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16 October 2016

This is an inconvenient time

29th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

We hear Paul saying to Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus [. . .]: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” We hear Jesus tell his disciples a parable of persistence – the unjust judge who decides to render a just verdict for a persistent widow. Then, finally, we hear our Lord ask this question: “. . .when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Of course, we would want to answer Jesus, “Yes, Lord, there is faith on earth!” We might be less enthusiastic, however, about finding this elusive faith. . .unless it's our own. Our own faith might not be all that impressive – the deepest, the most subtle or sophisticated; the most lively. Our own faith might not even be all that strong. But it persists. It endures. . .along with love and hope. Along with mercy and forgiveness. Along with the courage necessary to stand in this world and shine out the Good News. Polished or not, smooth or not our own faith is the assurance we need and that the world needs to prevail. This is an inconvenient time for the faithful. I feel it in my own spiritual life. Turbulence. Disorder. Snatching temptations. We know that persistence requires courage. So, are you courageous?

Nothing going on in New Orleans right now can compare to what was happening in Timothy's day. Open persecution of Christians. Arrests. Trials. Torture. Executions. In the face of this opposition, Paul exhorts Timothy to remain steadfast, to proclaim the Word, to encourage, to reprimand, to convince. And to do all these with patience. Of course, Paul is urging Timothy to do all these within the Church. Earlier in his letter, Paul makes a prediction, writing: “People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power.” How does Paul counsel Timothy to handle these people? “Reject them,” he writes. Reject them. . .not simply b/c they are sinful, but b/c they refuse to repent and turn to Christ. Teach them, preach to them, minister to them – all with patience, charity, and persistent faith. But those who persist in turning away Christ? Reject them b/c they have chosen to be rejected. Honor their choice.

I know, that seems downright un-Christian. But it's not. Our duty to love always includes a duty to teach with patience and minister in charity. That never changes. All we can do is live the best lives in Christ that we can possibly live; bear witness to the mercy that we ourselves have received; and sacrifice in service to all those who need us. All we can do is show the world the reality of God's providence – the truth, goodness, and beauty of life; the freedom of His children; and the wonders of living and moving and having our being in His Love. And if we doing all that we can do as followers of Christ, then the world can see for itself all that God has given freely given it. To receive these gifts or to reject them is a choice left entirely to the individual conscience. We cannot make that choice for others. We cannot compel faith or coerce love. What's freely given must be freely received. And the choices made must be honored. 
But to belong to the Body of Christ as heir to the kingdom means wholly embracing the whole of the Gospel. Not just the fun parts, or the nice parts, or the parts that don't disturb my life too much. All of it. When Paul urges Timothy to be persistent, he's urging his disciple to endure temptation, trial, and every terror that can be brought against the faith. He's exhorting him to be steadfast and courageous in the face of whatever the world may bring to bear while trying to sully the Bride. The unjust judge bows to the persistent widow not b/c he truly believes her to be in the right, but b/c he fears that she will eventually wear him down. Our persistence in holding onto the faith and doing all that we can to bear witness to Christ in the world probably won't “wear down” every soul in the world. But it will bring more and more along the Way. And that's our ministry. More specifically, that's your ministry – the ministry of the laity, those who live more fully in the world, reaching into places and out to people that most of the clergy never visit or meet. It's your Christian duty to “wear down” the walls that our secularized culture have built around the Church and her saving message. It's your duty to take the blessings of this Eucharist “out there” and bring the light of Christ into the darkness. So, to you, Our Lady of the Rosary parishioners, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus [. . .]: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” And to bear fruitful witness to the mercy you yourselves have received.

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