04 June 2016

A Strange Miracle. . .???

NB. I'm visiting the squirrels. . .here's one from 2013.

10th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Writing against the heresies of the Gnostic, Marcion in the second century, Tertullian uses Jesus' miraculous resuscitation of the widow's son to a make a point about Christ's relationship with his Father. On the way to making his point, Tertullian quickly summarizes the scene from Luke and notes, almost offhandedly, “This was not a strange miracle." Not a strange miracle? Did I miss something? Luke is reporting that Jesus returns a dead man back to life, right? Out of compassion for a widow whose only son has died, Jesus touches the dead man's coffin, and says, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And he does. Tertullian tells us that it is not strange that a dead man rises from his coffin? Nothing unusual about that at all. Tertullian and I have very different definitions of the word “strange.” To be fair to Tertullian, he's making a larger point by using this miracle. His larger point is that the revival of the widow's dead son is not at all strange when viewed in the longer history of miracles. He asks, if God's prophets can perform miracles of such magnitude, why not His Son? Especially when the miracle bears the burden of revelation: “. . .they glorified God, exclaiming. . .'God has visited his people.'” And God still visits His People. 

Just a day or two before reviving the widow's son, Jesus had healed the centurion's servant. In both cases, Jesus showed compassion and exercised great power. In both cases, his interventions gave witness to his ministry and glory to God. And in both cases, news of his words and deeds spread like wildfire over Judea. But there is one interesting difference btw the two events. In the case of the centurion's servant, Jesus acts on a request for healing. No such request is made in the case of the widow's son. What's interesting is that the power and glory of God are revealed in both cases, whether those most directly involved in the miracle ask for God's help or not. Where Christ goes—preaching, teaching, healing—so goes the most exacting revelation of God possible. The truth of that revelation—God's Self-revelation—is not contingent upon the need, the desire, the faith, or the belief of those to whom He reveals Himself. To those with eyes to see and ears to hear, He is uncovered, unveiled, and all there is to do is give thanks and praise! For others, strangeness abounds when a miracle occurs and there is nothing to do but seek a non-miraculous explanation. 

Let's ask a somewhat difficult question: do we need a strange miracle to occur before we can say with the utmost confidence: “God has visited His people!”? Do we need a man several days dead revived? Do we need a sick servant healed from a distance? If so, if you need a strange miracle to believe, ask yourself why. Why do I need such thing? And consider: God visits His people daily in the Eucharist. In the breaking of the bread, a great prophet rises among the people. God's mercy; His healing touch; His cleansing spirit; all the gifts necessary to come to Him in the perfection of His Christ. . .all freely available right here in His Church. Think of them as miracles. . .strange little miracles, if you want. Regardless, strange or not, miracles or not, in the Eucharist, all of the sacraments, Christ touches you and says to you, “Arise!” Arise from death. Arise from sin. Arise from disease, doubt, distress, worry. Arise, speak, bear witness, and be yourself a revelation of God the Most High! What else is there for any of us to do but arise and bear witness; arise and give testimony to the miracle of our salvation; arise and speak out for the glory of God that we are no longer slaves to sin but free men and women burdened by nothing and no one but the surpassing love of God and the inheritance we have received through His Son? 

Is our salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus a strange miracle? Yes and no. Given what little we know about the nature of God—that He is Love—and given what we know about His Christ—that he is fully human and fully divine—and given what we know about the nature of creation—that all of it, us included, participates in the divine life—then, no, it would seem that God's love for us is not miraculous at all. That He would condescend to send His Son among us to save us through sacrificial love seems like the perfectly natural act of a loving Father, not miraculous at all. But then we consider how we look upon creation: how we are tempted to explain the objects and processes of nature w/o reference to our Creator; how we work so hard to acquire things and dominate people outside the laws of charity; how we torture truth, desecrate beauty, and defile goodness, then: Yes! indeed, our salvation is a strange miracle, with emphasis on strange. Through all of the messes we make that we come to accept and receive God's grace and find ourselves lifted up to and adopted into the holy family, yes, that's strange indeed. Miraculously strange. 

“Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sits up and begins to speak. Jesus gives him back to his mother. “Fear seized [the crowd], and they glorified God, exclaiming, 'A great prophet has arisen in our midst,' and 'God has visited his people.'” Through their fear and amazement, the witnesses to this strange miracle recognize the work of the Most High. Through their awestruck fear, they give glory to God, and proclaim the news that God has visited His people. He still visits His people. He still reveals Himself through His Word, His Christ, and His creation. The truths He reveals are not contingent upon the need, the desire, the faith, or the belief of those to whom He reveals Himself. Do we need strange miracles to see His truth? Do you wait for some strange sign to believe? That's not the faith we share. We believe on the witness of Christ's apostles and the witness of his Church. We believe on the evidence of reason rightly revealed as a divine gift. We believe b/c we know who we were before Christ; who we would be w/o Christ, and all that we can be with Christ and him alone. Arise from death. Arise from disobedience. Arise from weakness, uncertainty, pain, and trouble. Arise. Speak. Bear witness. And be yourself a revelation of God the Most High!


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30 May 2016

Memorial Day

In honor of our American veterans! 

Pray for those who have served, are serving, and for those who have given their lives.


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29 May 2016

I like to eat!

Audio File

Corpus Christi 2016
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

I love to eat! (Big surprise, uh?) And I love to cook. But since I joined the Order in 1999, I haven't had many opportunities to cook. Everywhere I've lived in the Order, we've had someone to cook for us. One exception: during my time at Blackfriars Hall at Oxford U. the brothers took turns cooking. I loved it b/c I got to show off my southern cooking skills – fried chicken, baked pork chops, garlic mashed potatoes, cornbread. The last time I was up to cook for the 23 of us in the house, I chose to go out with an American bang – hamburgers, fries, and cole slaw. I've never seen a bunch of Brits so excited about a meal! To this day, some 12 yrs after that American blow-out, my Blackfriars brothers remember my burgers. And even the friars who joined up recently – have never even met me – know me as the Burger King! That is the power of food. That's the power of good food. . .a truth all the good citizens of New Orleans know from birth. If food this side of heaven can form the foundation of our memories, what can the Food of Heaven do for us? The Food of Heaven – the Body and Blood of Christ – can get us into heaven! But before we are ready for heaven, we have some holy work to do down here.

And helping us with our holy work is part of what the Body and Blood of Christ does. Jesus tells his disciples at one point, “You can do nothing w/o me.” He also promises them (and us), “I will be with you always.” We know that after he ascends to the Father and sends his Holy Spirit among us, Christ remains with us always in the Body of his Church – that's us. And like any hardworking body, we need good food and good drink to stay alive and working. Not just any old hamburger and diet cola will do! If we are to do the holy work we've been given to do, then we need holy food and holy drink. We need the Body and Blood of Christ to keep us alive and working. And so, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I handed on to you what I received from the Lord.” He then recounts what he received from the Lord – the institution of the Eucharist, the bread and the cup, ending with, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Every time you eat his Body and drink his Blood, you celebrate the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ Jesus, and you do so until he comes again. That celebration, that proclamation of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension is the source of our strength to do holy work.

When we take into ourselves his Body and Blood, we come closer to being who and what Christ himself is. My job for me is to become as much like Christ as I can this side of heaven. Your job for you is to become as much like Christ as you can this side of heaven. Why do we need to become like Christ? I need to become as much like Christ as I can so I can help you become as much like Christ as you can. I help you as a priest. You help me to become more like Christ as faithful lay men and women. We help one another according to our individual gifts, but we are all working on the same holy work: becoming Christs for one another. To be clear here: we are not just imitating Jesus to be good examples for one another. By worthily receiving his Body and Blood, we are made Christs for one another. Around 350 A.D., St. Cyril of Jerusalem*, addresses a group of people who were just baptized and confirmed. He says to them: “. . .having therefore become partakers of Christ you are properly called Christs. . .because you are images of Christ.” We are partakers of Christ in baptism, confirmation and, most especially, in the Eucharist; therefore, we are images of Christ and properly called Christs
Now, I mentioned earlier that good food makes for good memories. In my family, no event of any significance goes without a meal. We say, “When two or more Powell's are gathered together, there is a pecan pie.” I remember the big pots of seafood stew I made for my novitiate classmates. I remember the 20 course meal we made to celebrate the turn of the millennium. I remember the Memphis ribs we served at my priestly ordination. And in about three days I gonna remember my mama's fried chicken in Byhalia, MS! Like I said, I like to eat. But I don't eat to remember. Remembering just comes along for the gastronomical ride. Jesus tells us to eat and drink to remember him. Not just to recall him in memory, but to re-member. . .to make us once again a member of his Body. To strengthen our attachment to his Body. To reinforce our belonging to his ministry. There's no magic to this remembrance. He says do it, and so we do. He says that the bread and wine are his Body and Blood, and so they are. He is made present in the sacrament. We eat and we drink. And grow just that much closer to him. We become just that much more like him.

The solemnity of Corpus Christi sharpens our focus on the vitality and necessity of the Eucharist to our growth in holiness. Without it, we can do nothing. Without it, we cannot thrive as followers of Christ. He is our food and drink, our life and our love. For the Eucharist, we need priests. Chicken won't fry itself. And gumbo don't grow on trees. Simply put: no priests, no Eucharist. I will end with a challenge: once a week, once a month find a chapel of perpetual adoration – we have one at St. Dominic's, there's another at St. Catherine of Siena. While in the presence of the sacramental Christ, pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Specifically, pray that the men God has called to priesthood will find the courage to say Yes to that call. Pray that the men and women called to religious life will say Yes to their call. Many bishops and vocation directors in this country have testified to the power of Eucharistic Adoration to send them men for the priesthood, and men and women for religious life. We will have 136 seminarians at NDS next year. Men from about 18 dioceses and 4 religious orders. We need ten times that many for several more decades to meet the needs of Catholics in the South. 
Jesus took five fish and two loaves and fed 5,000. Everyday priests all over the world take bread and wine and feed millions the Body and Blood of Christ. The strength of his Body on earth and the doing of our holy work depend on the Eucharistic Christ.

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