08 April 2016

No fear in Christ!

2nd Week of Easter (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

In traditional iconography, St. Catherine of Siena is often portrayed carrying a ship on her shoulder. That ship is the Church. It reminds us of Noah's Ark, those who were saved from the flood. Most of us here this morning are sitting in the nave of the church. “Nave” derives from the Latin word, navis, which also gives us our word “navy.” So, the symbolic connections btw a ship on the sea and the church in the world are easy to draw. The disciples get into a boat and head out over the sea to Capernaum. A storm is brewing, the wind is kicking up, and the disciples are worried about capsizing. In response to this imminent danger, the disciples nominate a Task Force to address the crisis. The Task Force appoints a commission to study the problem. The commission selects a committee to hold hearings, and the cmte recommends that a working group issue a report. Eventually, the disciples vote on a draft of the report and release the document under the title, In navi durante tempestas, “On a Boat during a Storm.” Unfortunately, all the disciples are tossed overboard and drowned. In another version of this story, Jesus appears to his frightened disciples and says, “I Am. Do not be afraid” and the boat arrives safely on the shore.

My irreverent version of John's gospel story is meant to be a little cheeky and a little telling. When the Church confronts a contemporary crisis, whether its a crisis in the Church or with the world, how do we normally proceed? There's really no way to answer that question fully, of course, b/c each crisis presents its unique problems, thus requiring unique solutions. Maybe a better question would be: from what resources do we draw when a crisis confronts us? Even better: to whom do we turn when a strong wind blows up a storm? We humans are designed and built to solve problems, and we manage quite well considering our fallen nature. But the same instinct to solve problems often leads us to cause problems as well. When we flounder around trying to solve spiritual problems with secular tools, we invariably arrive at secular solutions that worsen the original spiritual problem. Jesus' last- minute appearance to the near-drowned disciples shows us the best way to deal with every crisis we encounter: look for the Lord and expect to hear him say, “I Am. Do not be afraid.” In other words, we are reminded again that we, the boat, the sea, the storm, all belong to God. Fear in a crisis is not only futile, it can be deadly—spiritually deadening.

Fear has its natural uses. Being afraid for our lives discourages us from doing all sorts of dangerous things. Leaping out of planes. Swimming in Lake Ponchatrain. Driving in New Orleans. Fear even has its supernatural uses. It makes us wary of sin. Using occult means for achieving our goals. But fear can also prevent us from doing the holy work we've been given to do. It can discourage us from risking our time, talent, and treasure in the pursuit of holiness. We are not baptized to seek spiritual safety, to cuddle close with our devotions and watch the world burn. We are baptized to go out and proclaim—in word and deed—the freely given mercy of God. We are baptized to go out and preach and teach and heal and forgive and be forgiven. BXVI, introducing the Year of Faith, teaches us that we must propose again to the world an encounter the Risen Lord. How? He writes, “. . .we need to renew our preaching with lively faith, firm conviction, and joyful witness.” Filled with faith, conviction, and joy, there is no room in any of us for fear. Leave no room for fear. And if fear should blow your way, stop, look for the Lord, and expect to hear him say to you, “I Am. Do not be afraid.”


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Thanks & Prayers

My Mendicant Thanks and Shout Out to W. Clement for browsing the Wish List and sending me an early birthday gift. . . 

As always, my Book/Paint Benefactors are in my daily prayers!


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03 April 2016

Are you unbelieving???

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

What do we know about Thomas? He's one of the Twelve disciples chosen by Christ to serve as apostles. He's called Didymus b/c he has a twin brother. And we know that he is absent on the night that the Risen Lord appears to his apostles. Oh, and we know that despite having lived and died more than 2,000 years ago, he's a thoroughly modern man. What makes him modern? When told by his friends that Jesus—dead and buried for three days—appeared to them, Thomas proclaims a thoroughly modern standard of truth: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks. . .I will not believe.” Modern philosophers and scientists would congratulate Thomas for demanding such a sensible and obviously right-thinking empirical standard for assenting to the truth of a claim. Jesus, on the other hand, isn't impressed. Appearing among his apostles a week later, Jesus allows Thomas to test his empirical standard. Now, Thomas believes. Jesus, far from praising his student's rigid need for proof, says, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” No one here has seen Jesus as Thomas did. Do we believe? And what difference does it make if we do or do not believe? 

It might seem strange for a Catholic priest to ask a church-full of Christians attending a Sunday Mass whether or not they believe in the Risen Lord. Why would any of us be here if we didn't believe? Let me suggest that there is a difference btw “believing that the Lord is risen” and “believing in the Risen Lord.” Simply believing that the Lord is risen is a matter of assent, saying, “Yes, I believe that” when asked. Believing in the Risen Lord is also a matter of assent—saying, “Yes, I believe that”—but saying Yes to the Risen Lord entails a commitment far more intimate and demanding that merely saying that he is risen. When prompting Thomas to explore his wounds, Jesus says to him, “do not be unbelieving, but believe.” How does Thomas respond? He doesn't say, “I retract my earlier statement of disbelief and now assent to the claim that you are risen.” No. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Believing in the Risen Lord commits us to submitting ourselves to the rule and measure of Christ as the source and summit of all that we are. A church-full of Christians can easily assent to the fact that the Lord is risen w/o ever committing themselves to being ruled by the Risen Lord. Doubt about the mechanics of the resurrection is the smallest obstacle we face when it comes to bending the knee to Christ our King. 

How does Thomas overcome his disbelief? Through Christ's mercy. It is b/c he is merciful that Jesus allows Thomas to satisfy his doubts on his own terms. We know that this is an act of mercy b/c Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Lord could've very easily left Thomas stewing in his doubt, left him outside the company of the blessed, and w/o the benefits of genuine belief. Instead, Jesus shows him mercy. Thomas is charged with the sin of disbelief, found guilty, and then pardoned; pardoned for no other reason than for the sake of the Gospel. The Gospel needs Thomas. And Peter and John and James and you and me. So, it is vital that we are not unbelieving but believing, that we are committed—heart, body, mind—to living under the rule and measure of Christ; thinking every thought, speaking every word, doing every deed for the sake of Christ and the spreading of his Good News. What is the Good News of Christ? That God freely offers His abundant mercy to all sinners. With repentance, we receive all that He generosity provides through the once for all sacrifice of His Christ on the cross. His mercy is our freedom from sin and our license to tell the whole world that Christ is Lord and God! 

Not too long after this meeting btw Jesus and Thomas, the apostles find themselves consumed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and set upon the world to preach the Good News and accomplish mighty deeds in Christ's name. Luke tells us in Acts that “many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. . .the people esteemed them. . .more than ever. . .great numbers of men and women, were added to them.” What were these signs and wonders? What exactly were the apostles doing and saying to bring so many to Christ? We know from Acts that the apostles were preaching God's mercy; baptizing those who repented; healing the sick and injured; freeing souls from unclean spirits; teaching the Word and breaking bread in memoriam. They were establishing the Lord's household among those who answered Christ's call to follow him. Why did they do these things? So that all may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief they may have life in his name. When we come to believe in the Risen Lord, when we come to trust in his name, we too accomplish mighty deeds, preach his Good News, and strengthen his household for all who answer his call to repentance and holiness. 

Do you believe? And what difference does it make if you do or do not believe? Do you call on his name in faith? And what difference does it make if you do or do not? After appearing to Thomas and some of the other disciples, Jesus reveals himself again at the Sea of Tiberias. To this group of disciples, Jesus not only reveals himself as the Risen Lord, he also reveals to them why it is necessary to listen to and obey his commands. The disciples are fishing and not having any luck. Jesus—disguised—tells the Beloved Disciple to cast his net over the right side of the boat. He obeys. The catch is so large that they can barely haul it in. At that moment, the B.D. recognizes Jesus and says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Note that Jesus is unrecognizable to the disciples until the B.D. listens to and obeys his commands. The miraculous haul of fish is a sign for the B.D., and he instantly sees his Risen Lord. What difference does belief make? Belief in Christ makes it possible for us to see his words and deeds speaking and working in our lives. Belief in Christ gives us the courage and strength necessary to repeat his words and deeds, to put his words and deeds to work in building and fortifying his royal household. 

Belief in the Risen Lord means submitting ourselves to Christ as our only rule and measure. The disciples do not recognize the Lord on the road to Emmaus. Nor when he visits them on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Nor will Thomas believe that he is risen until he appears in the flesh for inspection. Doubt, worry, fear, pride—all of these cloud the disciples' eyes and plug up their ears. Btw Easter and Pentecost the disciples find it difficult to recognize the Risen Lord b/c they have yet to make Christ the rule and measure of their hearts and minds. Here we are btw Easter morning and Pentecost. Does Christ rule our lives? Do we measure our holiness against his? What does anxiety measure? What does fear demand of its subjects? The Risen Lord gives us one last command before he ascends to the Father, “Peace be with you.” Be at peace. If our hearts and minds are torn apart by dread, or frightened by the unknown, or troubled by our past, then we cannot rest in the sure knowledge that Christ died for us b/c he loves us. And if we cannot rest knowing this truth, then we cannot come to believe in the Risen Lord. Be at peace. . .and come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life eternal.

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Mendicant Thanks to E. Menezes for hitting the Wish List and sending me Kim Holmes' The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left

I've read the first few chapters of this book, and it's great. Holmes traces the decline of classical liberal thought through the fascistic progressivism that currently dominates our cultural and political discourse. 

Get a copy! 

E.M., I'm praying for your discernment. . .

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