28 January 2016

Preachers need wisdom and humility

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, OP
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Thomas Aquinas: philosopher, theologian, scripture scholar, university professor, composer of hymns, jurist, consultant to Popes and councils, Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, and, of course, every seminarians' favorite title, Dumb Ox! Before he wrote the Summa contra gentiles and before he wrote the Summa theologiae, and before he composed the Tantum Ergo and the Pange Ligua, and before he was named a Doctor of the Church and gifted the Church with a theological foundation that still breathes 742 years after his death, before all of these and more. . .Thomas flourished as a Dominican friar, a preacher. And everything we wrote, taught, sang, and studied he did for the sake of preaching the Gospel. For the Dumb Ox, preaching endured as that without which his commentaries, hymns, treatises, and books turned to straw. For us, the fruits of his contemplation constitute a body of human wisdom unsurpassed in subtlety, complexity, and depth, and gift us with the means of both perfecting ourselves and our preaching. Underneath Thomas' preaching, supporting his mission and ministry, stands the slender straws of wisdom and humility.

On the nature of wisdom, Thomas writes, “According to [Aristotle] (Metaph. i: 2), it belongs to wisdom to consider the highest cause. By means of that cause we are able to form a most certain judgment about other causes, and according thereto all things should be set in order…Accordingly, it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about Divine things after reason has made its inquiry…”(ST II-II.45.1-2). More simply put, wisdom is that habit of mind that seeks to discover and study the final causes of all things and put these things in their proper order given their final cause. Therefore, Wisdom does not enlighten us like some occult swamp-spirit that flits around waiting for the right moment to sting. Nor does Wisdom live among the tacky tomes of Retail Gnosticism that litter the shelves of B&N. These “wisdoms” – little more than leftover paganism muscled-up with psychobabble – these wisdoms gift the weak ego with a shot of faux courage and urges the newly self-anointed guru to adore him or herself. But from the wisest teacher of them all, we know that: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 
When we acknowledge that we live and move and have our being in God, when we humble ourselves, we participate in His wisdom. When we participate in His wisdom – seeking the final causes of all things – we enter contemplation and prepare ourselves to share the fruits of our contemplation. And when we share the fruits of our contemplation, we preach the Good News. When we study, we prepare to preach. When we pray, we prepare to preach. When we minister, we prepare to preach. When we rest, we prepare to preach. For Thomas, and for us if we hope to grow in holiness, preaching endures as that without which our papers, our essays and presentations, our teaching and our research turns to straw. Whether we preach from the pulpit, the street corner, the dining room table, or the classroom lectern, our vowed task remains: to go ad gentes – among the peoples – and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our Father freely offers His mercy to sinners, seducing the sinner into salvation. If we will, we live and move and have our being as His mercy-filled instruments.


Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

25 January 2016

Just how hard-headed are you?

From 2008. . .

Conversion of St Paul
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great and Church of the Incarnation

I was hit in the head with a brick once. My brother threw it at me right after I threw two bricks at him. Once, while helping dad put up a barbed-wire fence, the tightly wound end unwound and smacked me across my face. I’ve been bitten several times by the emotionally unstable. Various bodily fluids thrown at me and on me. I’ve been in only one serious auto accident and numerous accidents with chainsaws, axes, lawnmowers, my ’69 Pontiac Executive, and a widely swung two x four to the jaw. I had to help physically restraint a police officer once while a psych nurse got a needle full of Haldol in his hip. I’ve watched patients in the trauma ward die. And then come back to life with a little help. I’ve seen beautiful black puppies slaughtered and dressed for food in a Chinese market. And I watched a Japanese family eat a raw fish while it still breathed. I even had to help a nurse suture a self-inflicted wound on a male patient. Let’s just say his “manhood” was telling him to do bad things, so he, well. . .snipsnip. Once, I was within days of dying from a blood-staph infection. Not once during any of these highly dangerous, highly emotional, deeply life-changing events, never did I hear a voice or see a light telling me to preach the Good News to the whole world. Then, again, I’m not (and have never been) Saul the infamous persecutor of the Church; nor Paul, the missionary apostle to the Gentiles. Maybe it is the case that Paul is a little less hard-headed than your average Mississippi farmboy.

Paul, well on his way to Damascus, is knocked to the ground by a flash of light and blinded. In his darkness, he is persecuting the Church—eyes and heart closed—; he arrests, jails, tries, and imprisons members of Christ’s Body. Ananias is told to go look for the blinded persecutor and teach him the faith. Ananias objects, saying that he has heard that Saul is an infamous enemy of the Church. But the Lord says to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…” Ananias does as he is ordered, finding the blinded Saul and offering him the baptism of water and spirit. Once his sight is returned to me, his vision of the Church is radically changed. Now, he preaches Christ and him crucified.

All of this serious machination to get Paul on our side has a larger and better purpose than simply winning a hard one for the team. Without the benefit of Jesus’ one-on-one instruction that the other apostles received, Paul must do what the other Eleven were commissioned to do,”Go into the whole world an proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” That’s a good commission. But did it require being bodyslammed by a burst of light and then several days of blindness lived among Jewish strangers? It did. Why? Mark’s gospel is elegant in its simplicity and lack of subtly. Paul, like the other disciples and like ourselves, is charged with preaching the Good News. Whoever believes and is baptized is saved. Whoever refuses to believe or to be baptized is condemned.

At this point in the Christian narrative, this is not a happy-clappy message best delivered by recently scrubbed professors of theology or neatly styled media pastors. The weight of this choice is best delivered—in its stark, uncompromising simplicity—by someone who never believed it before but now, but because of a direct revelation from Christ himself, knows beyond the logic of language and speech that the Gospel message is terrifyingly true. Paul met the Message in the burst of light but he came to believe in Christ in his blindness. Blind, crippled, dependent on strangers for his daily care, and newly commissioned to abandon everything, everything he has ever known to the good, true, and beautiful, Paul sees with new eyes, stronger eyes and he is fortified against the lazy hearts and minds of those who would fall so easily back among their former ways, clouding the truth, burying the tough stuff under bushels of alien philosophies and favorites sin—all the foreign fruit that will rot too soon and soon enough.

All who heard him were astounded because he had been chosen from the world to go out, witness to the saving power of God, and bear through his witness the everlasting fruit of the Father’s Word.


Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->